What is psychotherapy?

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If you sprained your ankle or broke your leg, after the doctor patched you up, you would probably need some type of physical therapy to help you regain proper use of your leg.  In a similar way, if you are under emotional or psychological stress or strain, it can help to get some professional support from someone trained to help you regain or reclaim your true self.

Talking things over with a friend can be helpful, sometimes.  But when that isn’t enough, psychotherapy, sometimes known as ‘talk therapy’ can  be effective.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary (MedlinePlus) defines psychotherapy as the

treatment of mental or emotional disorder or maladjustment by
psychological means which involves a qualified therapist
who helps to alleviate symptoms of mental or emotional disturbance
.

Different kinds of psychotherapy treatment are provided by different kinds of therapist (such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counselor or psychotherapist).  How to tell the difference?  Briefly:

  • A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating people with mental illness and who is qualified to prescribe drugs or medications to help ease suffering and/or symptoms.
  • A psychologist has a PhD. in psychology, and also diagnoses and treats mental illness.  However, in Ontario, psychologists may not prescribe drugs or medications (unless they also are a licensed physician).
  • Social Workers and Counselors help people, groups and communities improve their lives and resolve problems on an individual and societal level.
  • Psychotherapists are trained to provide therapy for mental and emotional issues on a personal level, for individuals and families. The therapy usually involves talking.
    • What most talk therapies have in common is that they help people understand what’s happening to them, provide tools and strategies so people can help themselves and function in a healthier, happier way.
    • There are many different types of talk therapy, each with a particular focus, approach or set of techniques that have been found to be effective.  For example, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) focuses on an individual’s thoughts and how these thoughts affect behavior.  A Jungian approach works with the individual’s unconscious.  Gestalt therapy helps an individuals become aware of the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that contribute to the current problem so that change can take place.
  • But therapy can also involve art, music, body awareness, movement, theatre (as in psychodrama), and spiritual exploration, depending on the therapist’s skills, experience and training.  Gestalt therapy incorporates many of these elements, if the client wishes.
  • Studies have shown that what’s most important is the relationship between the therapist and the client, which is often called the ‘therapeutic alliance.’  This means it is important for you to find the right person, someone who’s the right fit for you.
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