What is Psychotherapy and How Does it Help?

“The purpose of psychotherapy is to set people free.”Rollo May, an American existential psychologist.

Do you feel that you can’t deal with your emotions? Are you too overwhelmed with your everyday struggles? Do you feel that you need help? Then psychotherapy could be a better idea to improve your psychological well-being and achieve a stable emotional state.

Everyone knows that psychotherapy is a way of coping with stressful life events, emotional troubles, or other mental health problems. However, some of the things that hold them back are uncertainty about the process of psychotherapy or not being sure about which type of therapy they need.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a similar method to counseling. However, psychotherapy aims to reveal deeper causes of an individual’s problems and develop ways to solve them. In this article, we’ll define psychotherapy and its purposes, the process and types of psychotherapy, and discuss scientific data about its effectiveness.

What is Psychotherapy?

The American Psychiatric Association defines psychotherapy as a form of talk therapy that aims to help people deal with a wide variety of mental health problems and emotional difficulties. It provides control mechanisms for their mental health issues in order to improve overall functioning, heal and increase well-being.

The history of psychotherapy is connected with an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. In fact, psychoanalysis is the original form and even today, what people mean by psychotherapy is classic Freudian psychoanalysis or “talking cure”. However, nowadays it is much more sophisticated, as it’s based on empirical data and scientific research.

The process of psychotherapy involves various methods and strategies according to the clients’ needs. Usually, the therapy is divided into sessions that occur a few times a week or a month and last about 40-120 minutes.

Psychotherapy is used by professional therapists and counselors to treat different types of problems, including depression, anxiety, the impact of trauma, the death of loved ones, or other types of everyday problems. Today, psychologists use various types depending on the problem, and sometimes it’s used in combination with other therapies or medication that turns out to be effective (Dunlop, 2016).

How does it Work?

Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment between an individual and a psychologist. The main idea is that clients talk loudly about their problems with a therapist in a supportive environment that allows them to discuss their problems openly. The basic principles contradict judging the client’s position or problems. Therefore, during the sessions, a therapist always maintains a neutral, non-judgmental attitude towards a client.

A client and therapist discuss the client’s current state, identify their problems through deep conversations, and figure out ways of overcoming the issues together, which means that a client has an active role in the process of psychotherapy.

Most often, psychotherapy is oriented towards individuals, but some forms of psychotherapy also include family, couple, or group therapies. The treatment can be either short-term, involving a few sessions to deal with immediate problems like trauma, or long-term that continues over months or even years in order to overcome complex problems. In either way, the client and the therapist work together to define exact goals and track the progress.

One of the most important aspects of psychotherapy is confidentiality. It’s a basic requirement of any type of therapy and means that a therapist keeps everything that happens during the sessions in private. The reason is that clients usually share their personal feelings, stories, and thoughts and require a guarantee of privacy. Confidentiality and clients’ ability to open up about their problems usually lead to trust between an individual and a therapist. Building a rapport, or mutual trust increases the chances of receiving a better outcome.

The Different Types Used

Nowadays, psychologists and other mental health professionals use a lot of types of psychotherapy in practice. In fact, there are at least 500 different types of psychotherapy, and therapists tend to choose the most optimal method based on the research data and the specific problem of their client. Combining elements from different approaches is also a common practice. Some of the most frequently used types of psychotherapy include:

  • Behavioral Therapy – the main goal of this type of psychotherapy is to show clients that changes in their behavior are related to changes in their emotional state. BT replaces unwanted behaviors with adaptive ones.
  • Cognitive Therapy – it’s an earlier form of Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CT deals with maladaptive thought patterns and irrational beliefs. The therapist helps the client change negative self-talk and improve their overall psychological well-being by restructuring thoughts.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy – it’s a classic understanding of psychotherapy. Psuchodincamit therapy is focused on childhood traumas and the deep-rooted causes of the current mental state. The main goal is to help clients understand how their past affects their present behavior, emotions, and thoughts.
  • Interpersonal Therapy – it’s a short-term form of psychotherapy. During IPT, a therapist helps individuals identify underlying interpersonal issues that are causing their problems, such as tension in social relationships, unresolved grief, maladaptive romantic relationships, and more. They learn healthy ways to express emotions and improve their relationships.

Who can Benefit?

Psychotherapy can be used to help people with a wide range of mental health problems. Some of the most common conditions treated by psychotherapy are the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other traumatic disorders
  • Phobias
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Addictions and substance use
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Processing grief
  • Conflict resolution

This form of therapy is especially beneficial for those who

  • Feel anxious most of the time
  • Are at the risk of harming themselves
  • Constantly feel sadness
  • Have experienced psychological or physical abuse
  • Use drugs or other substances
  • Feel unmotivated and can’t focus on their work or studies
  • Have difficulty in interpersonal relationships

How Effective is it?

The latest scientific studies prove that psychotherapy is an effective method for dealing with a wide range of mental and behavioral health problems. For example, according to Munder et al., (2018), psychotherapy is effective for adults diagnosed with depression.

Research shows that psychotherapy has long-term effects and contributes to steady ongoing change in the thoughts and behaviors of individuals (Perren, Godfrey & Rowland, 2009). Besides, the effects of psychotherapy tend to be longer compared to most common medical treatments.

Still, the combination of medication and therapy is considered even more efficient for complex problems. In fact, as the National Institute for Health Research proves, combined treatment is 23% more acceptable than medication alone, and psychological therapy is 17% more effective than drug treatment alone.

One of the reasons why it is so effective is that it helps people learn more about themselves and identify the underlying causes of their problems. In the process of therapy sessions, clients develop skills for overcoming future problems and understanding their basic values and goals. As a result, psychotherapy leads to improved psychological well-being for the long term.


Today, more than 25% of American adults experience depression, anxiety, stress, relationship troubles, emotional difficulties, and other mental health problems every year. All of these problems lead to reduced quality of life and decrease overall happiness. Psychotherapy is a proven way to cope with different types of problems. However, it depends on the client’s engagement, as well as the therapist’s competence.

Psychotherapy aims to help people understand their feelings and overcome challenges both in the present and in the future. If you’re interested in psychotherapy, you can reach out to psychotherapy professionals at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids to identify which type of therapy is more suitable and work towards increasing your quality of life.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Share on Social