What is it for?
Psychotherapy is the first line treatment for a wide spectrum of mental health problems. Psychotherapy by itself, or in combination with medication, has been shown to be the most effective approach for the treatment (and prevention of re-occurrence) of depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, eating disorders, identity, and personality disorders. Psychotherapy is the most enduring form of treatment for mental health problems. Unlike with medications, the benefits from psychotherapy continue even after the active phase of treatment has concluded. Psychotherapy is also indicated for the prevention of relapse of psychotic episodes in schizophrenia. Psychotherapy is an integral part of substance abuse treatment, maintenance of long term sobriety, and helping patients to cope with pain, injuries, disability, and serious medical illness. No matter which mental health problem, the scientific and clinical evidence is very clear that psychotherapies play a substantial role in improving the distress and symptoms associated with illness.
Psychotherapy is the first choice indication for behavioral problems and for mental health treatment for children. With far fewer side effects to worry about, psychotherapy can help parents with infants, toddlers, preschool children as well as school-aged children and teens with anxiety, depression, disruptive and self-destructive behavior, grief, trauma and navigating school and life experiences. In children and adolescents, medication for attention or behavioral problems should always be considered secondarily to establishing a plan for parent-child guidance, psychotherapy, family therapy, and an educational intervention. Start with the least biologically invasive approach for growing bodies and brains.
What is involved?
Psychotherapy is a treatment that involves an ongoing series of conversations held during scheduled sessions. Psychotherapy works as a collaborative process between people: it is a dialogue and occurs in the context of a relationship. In all forms of psychotherapy, an honest, open, working relationship between the patient and the therapist is essential for therapeutic benefit. The course of psychotherapy, frequency of sessions, and duration of treatment are usually open-ended with a plan collaboratively established during the early series of meetings. Many patients work well and experience symptom reduction with a treatment that meets for once-weekly sessions, while more intensive treatment with more frequent sessions (2-3 times per week) is usually required to address goals of deeper structural or personality change. Symptoms that caused initial distress often diminish early on in the course of a treatment, usually within the first few months. As treatment progresses, therapeutic goals shift from symptom management, to a deeper level of awareness or gaining of insight, and to learning the emotional skills that help people to recognize and manage feelings and relationships better over time. It is important to be aware that psychotherapy is a social and interpersonal treatment that can have lasting positive biological impact on the way the brain is structured and how it functions.
Psychotherapy, like any health treatment, can have risks as well as benefits. While the course of psychotherapy is designed to be helpful, it may at times be difficult or feel uncomfortable. Most patients benefit from psychotherapy, but the change process itself is not always predictable. Some people experience immediate and noticeable relief once a course of psychotherapy begins, whereas other people find that levels of distress can seem to worsen for a period of time while they confront difficult issues or feelings. Most often problems will steadily show improvement. Relationships with other people usually change too as a result of the person in treatment behaving differently. Outcomes are affected by the nature of the presenting problems, the motivation and dedication of the client to the treatment process, to the techniques applied in the treatment, and to the relationship established between patient and the therapist.