Psychotherapy: What Type of Talk Therapy Is Right for Me?
Everyone experiences periods of emotional distress. Sometimes, negative thoughts and feelings go away on their own, and no treatment is needed. Other times, participating in psychotherapy can significantly and positively impact one’s overall mood and outlook on life.
Whether you’re experiencing mental health symptoms or need some extra support, talk therapy can help. Talking therapies can help you learn how to cope with negative thoughts and feelings, improve your mood, and help you live a more meaningful life. Psychotherapy can also help those who feel distressed by difficult situations and individuals with more complex mental health conditions.
From the different therapy types to finding a therapist, here’s everything you need to know about talk therapy.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” involves speaking to a trained mental health professional in a safe and confidential environment to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and learn coping skills.
Unlike talking to a trusted friend or family member, opening up to a psychotherapist can give you insight into your thoughts and feelings and learn new, healthy ways to manage difficult situations. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a referral from a primary care physician or a mental health diagnosis to benefit from psychotherapy.
During individual psychotherapy sessions, the conversation is typically collaborative with your mental health professional. Depending on the specific therapeutic approach, your therapist may ask about past or current problems, experiences, feelings, or relationships to provide insight into your mental health.
Studies consistently show that individual psychotherapy effectively improves symptoms in a wide range of mental illnesses, making it the first-line treatment for many mental health conditions. Talk therapy can also be helpful to families, couples, and groups. In many cases, mental health professionals recommend combining medication and therapy to help individuals with mental health conditions function in their daily life.
Different Types of Talk Therapy
Depending on your preferences and specific symptoms, mental health professionals may recommend different types of psychotherapy, such as:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) uses a combination of cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy to explore the relationships between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During CBT, you’ll work with your therapist to identify unhealthy thought patterns and how they may be causing problematic behaviors and beliefs.
By recognizing negative thought patterns, you’ll develop healthy ways of thinking that lead to more positive behavior patterns and beliefs. For example, if you’re struggling with low self-esteem, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can help you replace negative thoughts (“I’m not good at anything”) with different ways of thinking (“I’m good at this, based on my past experiences”).
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) combines CBT methods with meditation techniques. Originally used to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT involves a combination of individual therapy and group therapy. Today, psychotherapists commonly use DBT methods to treat eating disorders, personality disorders, and self-harm behaviors.
Like CBT, DBT involves short-term, structured therapy sessions. However, DBT builds on CBT by emphasizing validation or accepting negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors instead of struggling. By coming to terms with negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, you’ll be able to work with your therapist to create a gradual treatment plan toward recovery.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, DBT is an effective treatment for various mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. DBT helps reduce the frequency of dangerous behaviors by emphasizing individual strengths, teaching coping skills, and using positive reinforcement to motivate change.
Psychodynamic therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on recognizing and resolving negative emotions and behavior patterns rooted in past experiences. During this type of therapy, your therapist may ask you open-ended questions or use free association to encourage you to discuss whatever is on your mind.
Your mental health professional will then work with you to sift through past experiences and identify unconscious patterns of behavior and feeling. By learning how childhood experiences have influenced your behaviors and emotions, you can learn new skills to overcome unhealthy behaviors.
Psychodynamic therapy is typically used to treat mood disorders and anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, and panic disorder.
Humanistic therapy adopts a whole-person approach to resolve negative thinking and behavioral patterns, using various theories and techniques to promote self-development.
Humanistic therapy helps you explore your relationship with different parts of yourself, including your emotions, body, mind, and behavior, as well as your interpersonal relationships with other people, such as your friends and family members. Above all else, this type of therapy aims to help you grow, find support, and live a meaningful life.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Although practiced less commonly, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is commonly used to treat PTSD. According to previous studies, EMDR is the most effective short-term intervention to reduce the emotional distress associated with traumatic experiences. Many PTSD patients require fewer sessions compared to other types of treatment.
During EMDR, PTSD patients learn new ways to replace adverse emotional reactions with more positive responses and beliefs. Performing a series of repetitive eye movements for 20–30 seconds can help individuals with PTSD change their emotional responses to difficult situations.
Group therapy is a form of therapy led by a facilitator or a practitioner experienced in talk therapy who introduces members and helps the conversation flow. During group therapy sessions, people find solutions together, share past experiences, and learn from each other in a supportive, confidential group setting.
Group counseling and support groups are beneficial for individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), substance abuse, addiction, and children and adolescents with mild depression. By connecting with others in a group setting, you can find new ways to cope with challenging situations. It helps you also create a sense of community that can be vital for your forward progress.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) focuses on your interpersonal relationships to improve your interpersonal skills. During IPT, you’ll work with your therapist to assess your social interactions, identify negative patterns, and learn new ways to interact positively with other people daily.
Family Therapy/Couples Counseling
Family therapy and couples counseling are forms of group counseling in which couples or families work with a psychotherapist to sort out difficulties in their relationships.
Family therapy can help family members and loved ones understand and support those with mental health disorders, especially individuals with eating disorders, depression, and schizophrenia. Meanwhile, mental health professionals may recommend couples counseling when individual therapy sessions for each spouse do not resolve communication issues.
What should you look for in a therapist?
To enjoy the full benefits of talk therapy, you’ll need to feel comfortable opening up about private thoughts and feelings. Consequently, it’s essential to find a licensed therapist who offers confidentiality, empathy, and support. Several types of mental health professionals are qualified to provide psychotherapy, including:
- Clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, and health psychologists
- Psychiatrists and community psychiatric nurses trained in talking therapies
- Social workers, professional counselors, and mental health counselors
- Psychotherapists, family therapists, and couples counselors
More licensed professionals have started offering mental health services in private practice, business, and online therapy settings within recent years. It’s essential to know whether the therapist is licensed and accredited before starting treatment.
In addition to checking the accreditation and licensure of mental health professionals, be sure to check their specialty, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with a specific mental disorder. For example, if you’re experiencing emotional distress and panic attacks related to PTSD, consider searching for a licensed therapist with experience in treating anxiety disorders and trauma. If you’re not sure where to start, consider asking your primary care physicians for referrals.
What makes a good therapist?
Your therapeutic relationship is important. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), forming a deep therapeutic relationship can improve your long-term mental health outcomes.
Whether you’re trying psychotherapy for the first time, starting family therapy, or transitioning to online therapy, it’s essential to find the right fit. A good therapist will listen to you, value what you say, challenge your negative thoughts and feelings, and respect your boundaries. Above all else, a good therapist has your best interests at heart, focusing on your core beliefs, what you want to achieve, and what steps you could take to get there.
Remember: after you give it a fair chance, move on from a therapist you don’t feel comfortable with, who doesn’t respect you, or help you heal. If you don’t notice any improvement after the first few sessions, consider searching for a different therapist or asking to try another type of psychotherapy.
Find the support you need today.
At the Therapy Group of NYC, we know that overcoming challenging thoughts and emotions requires persistence, strength, and experienced mental health professionals’ support.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness or you’re interested in starting online therapy, one of the licensed therapists at the Therapy Group of NYC will help you regain strength, learn healthy ways to cope, and live a more meaningful life.