What is Psychotherapy


I’ve had several years of psychotherapy or “talk therapy” and it has helped in various ways. I’m presently involved with trauma therapy (which some will say PTSD) which has been painful but I know that in order to help me process locked emotions that have been within me for a very long time.

Below is an article on the topic.

Psychotherapy is treatment for mental health problems in which a  mental health professional helps you change how you think, feel and behave using methods based on psychological, biological and social theories and research. Research shows that changing one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours reduces or eliminates symptoms of many mental healthy problems and improves quality of life. Psychotherapy is also used successfully to help people cope with or overcome life problems, such as adjusting to a health issues or overcoming discrimination, bullying or abuse, to name just a few. However, this article focuses only on mental health problems.

Psychotherapy is sometimes referred to as “counselling”, sometimes as “talk therapy” and sometimes simply as “therapy”. While these terms tend to be used interchangeably, the term “counselling” has also been used more broadly to describe supportive conversations between a health professional and the client.  These might focus on regular medication intake, housing issues or helping navigate the health system. These types of counselling, while helpful, would not qualify as psychotherapy because they are not meant to treat mental health problems.

Psychotherapy is one of the best treatments for mental health problems. This statement is supported by 50 years’ worth of research. The question is not if psychotherapy works, but how.

How does psychotherapy work?

Researchers have different views about how and why psychotherapy works. The “active ingredients” in psychotherapy can be broadly grouped into specific and common factors. Knowing about these “active ingredients” can help choose a psychotherapy service that is a good fit for you.

Specific factors

Many researchers say that psychotherapy works because it offers carefully assembled interventions tailored for specific mental health problems. An example of an intervention would be when the therapist teaches the client how to challenge worrying thoughts by comparing them to facts. A different example is when the therapist and the client explore patterns in the client’s relationships across time. Another intervention would be when the therapist teaches the client strategies to become more aware of their emotions.

These interventions are called “specific factors” because they differ from one psychotherapy to another. A “psychotherapy” to another.  A “psychotherapy” is understood here as a group of interventions. Researchers who study specific factors compare different psychotherapies (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, etc) to each other to find the most effective psychotherapy for a specific mental health problem.

Common Factors

Other psychotherapy researchers believe that therapy works because of “common factors” that are shared across psychotherapies. According to these researchers, most psychotherapies can be helpful for most problems because the effectiveness lies in the art of how psychotherapy is done, not which interventions are used.

An example of common factor is positive, honest relationship between the therapist and the client, who are working toward the same goal. An example of a common factor is a positive, honest relationship between the therapist and the client, who are working toward the same goal. Another common factor is when the therapist and the client develop a shared understanding of the client’s problem and the way it can be changed. Yet another is when the client is given an opportunity to practice and master new skills that help overcome their problem. Research supports the importance of common factors. For example, studies consistently show that a strong therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client leads to better outcomes in various therapies and problems.

In addition, some researchers have shown that, when some aspects of research design are improved, psychotherapies might not be as different from each other in their effectiveness as those who study “specific factors” believe they are.

How do I choose a psychotherapy that works for me?

Choosing a psychotherapy service can be overwhelming at first. So it can be helpful to use a guide such as some approaches used by therapists. One approach therapists use to decide how to work with a specific client is called evidence-based practice (EBP). EBP specifies three types of information that can help decide on the appropriate psychotherapy: 1) client characteristics 2) research evidence, and 3) therapist’s clinical expertise. EBP has been recommended by the American and Canadian psychological associations and is also used in the field of medicine, where is originated. Although the principles of the EBP were designed to help clinicians, they can also be useful for clients who are deciding on the best psychotherapy service to meet their needs.

Here are some therapist and client characteristics that, according to research, affect outcomes in psychotherapy. You might want to consider them when choosing a psychotherapy service that meets your needs.

The therapist

Research suggests that the person who is delivering therapy has an impact on the treatment’s success. Most effective therapists are empathic, accepting genuine, able to speak with you directly about any misunderstandings that happen between the two of you and able to see strengths in your cultural worldview. They are also highly skilled, but not rigid, in the therapies that they provide. They will challenge you or invite you to step outside your comfort zone.

You can monitor to see whether your therapist has these qualities. If you are not “clicking” with your therapist, it can be very helpful for both of you to have a conversation about this.

The client

You, as the client, are the most important ingredient of change in psychotherapy. You are the one who does most of the work. Studies show that clients with better outcomes understand their problems similarly to the way their therapist views them, but are also open to changing these understandings. They are motivated and have optimistic but not idealistic expectations toward therapy (unless they have depression, because negative expectations are part of the disorder).

Reviewing your attitudes toward psychotherapy can help you assess if this is a good treatment for you.

Finding a “fit” – It’s worth making an effort

Psychotherapies and therapists vary in their styles of work — and your preferences in how you would like to work matter. You might meet with several therapists before you find a good fit.  A good fit means that you feel respected and supported by your therapist and ‘buy into’ the psychotherapy approach enough to work hard and step outside your comfort zone. You might decide to choose a psychotherapy that was successfully studied with a problem like yours.

While choosing a service might not be easy, it is worth the effort — psychotherapy is, after all, one of the most effective treatments available for mental health problems. That is particularly true when you find a good combination of specific and common factors that match your needs.

Written by Karolina Rozworska, MA

I must admit, I found this article very interesting as I never had any of this information on my journey to finding a therapist.

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