There are generally considered to be two main theoretical bases for psychotherapy.

Psychoanalytic – based off of the work of Sigmund Freud, and has evolved since the late 1800s. The underlying idea is that there is an unconscious part of everyone’s mind that has a powerful and meaningful effect on our thoughts and everyday actions. By trying to examine the unconscious, a person can better understand their life and gain more control over the things they think, feel and do.

Cognitive Behavioral – focuses more on the present, accessible thoughts and behaviors of people rather than the subconscious and seeks to address them directly in order to make positive change.

Various psychotherapies have been used to treat many conditions including mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, Personality disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and addictions.

Psychotherapies are also used to treat people who may not have a diagnosed mental illness, but need help coping with some kind of life stressor, such as stress from work or family, dealing with disease or health problems, or any kind of major life change, such as the death of a parent, divorce or personal trauma.

There are many different types of psychotherapy, each with a different approach. The type of psychotherapy used will depend on each individual’s situation and needs. Some specific examples are:

Psychoanalysis - encourages the verbalization of all the patient's thoughts, including free associations, fantasies, and dreams, from which the analyst formulates the nature of the unconscious conflicts which are causing the patient's symptoms and character problems.

Behavioral Therapy - focuses on changing maladaptive patterns of behavior to improve emotional responses, cognitions, and interactions with others.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - aims to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and cognitions through a goal-oriented, systematic procedure in the present. Therapeutic techniques vary within the different approaches of CBT according to the particular kind of problem issues, but commonly may include keeping a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviors; questioning and testing cognitions, assumptions, evaluations and beliefs that might be unhelpful and unrealistic; gradually facing activities which may have been avoided; and trying out new ways of behaving and reacting. Relaxation, mindfulness and distraction techniques are also commonly included.

Brief Therapy - emphasizes (1) a focus on a specific problem and (2) direct intervention. It is solution-based rather than problem-oriented. It is less concerned with how a problem arose than with the current factors sustaining it and preventing change.
Interpersonal therapy – focuses on improving one’s interpersonal skills by looking at how someone relates to family, friends and colleagues

Group Therapy – a discussion lead by a mental health provider between multiple people facing the same situation or mental illness

Pros for this therapy

Psychotherapy can help you make dramatic changes in your life. Psychotherapy seeks to discover and address the underlying causes of psychological issues. Psychotherapy allows you to explore your symptoms and defenses in a constructive manner. Psychotherapy is a great tool to lead you to awareness, which can allow you to make the dramatic changes that will help you to move forward.

Cons for this therapy

There are very few cons for psychotherapy, however patients who are in an acute psychotic state or severely depressed and suicidal may need hospitalization and medication to be initially stabilized. Patients with anorexia, severe personality disorders, or other organic brain diseases such as schizophrenia may need medical attention as well. All courses of psychotherapy should be supervised by a psychiatrist as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Since therapy can bring up painful memories or feelings, sometimes people may need to wait until their lives are stabilized before therapy can be successful. Other times, if therapy is successful and someone makes a life change, this may be difficult for some old relationships to sustain. While most people will be happy that someone is undergoing therapy for self-improvement, there will always be people who do not like the 'new' person, and this will put a strain on, and sometimes end, a relationship, which can be painful.

Psychoanalysis was perhaps the first specific school of psychotherapy, developed by Sigmund Freud and others through the early 20th century. Trained as a neurologist, Freud began focusing on problems that appeared to have no discernible organic basis, and theorized that they had psychological causes originating in childhood experiences and the unconscious mind. Techniques such as dream interpretation, free association, transference and analysis of the id, ego and superego were developed.

Behaviorism developed in the 1920s, and behavior modification as a therapy became popularized in the 1950s and 1960s. Notable contributors were Joseph Wolpe in South Africa, M.B. Shipiro and Hans Eysenck in Britain, and John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner in the United States. Behavioral therapy approaches relied on principles of operant conditioning, classical conditioning and social learning theory to bring about therapeutic change in observable symptoms. The approach became commonly used for phobias, as well as other disorders.

During the 1950s, Albert Ellis originated Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). A few years later, psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck developed a form of psychotherapy known as cognitive therapy. Both of these generally included relatively short, structured and present-focused therapy aimed at identifying and changing a person's beliefs, appraisals and reaction-patterns, by contrast with the more long-lasting insight-based approach of psychodynamic or humanistic therapies. Cognitive and behavioral therapy approaches were combined and grouped under the heading and umbrella-term Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the 1970s. Many approaches within CBT are oriented towards active/directive collaborative empiricism and mapping, assessing and modifying clients core beliefs and dysfunctional schemas. These approaches gained widespread acceptance as a primary treatment for numerous disorders. A "third wave" of cognitive and behavioral therapies developed, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical behavior therapy, which expanded the concepts to other disorders and/or added novel components and mindfulness exercises. Counseling methods developed, including solution-focused therapy and systemic. During the 1960s and 1970s Eugene Heimler, after training in the new discipline of psychiatric social work, developed Heimler method of Human Social Functioning, a methodology based on the principle that frustration is the potential to human flourishing.

Postmodern psychotherapies such as Narrative Therapy and Coherence Therapy did not impose definitions of mental health and illness, but rather saw the goal of therapy as something constructed by the client and therapist in a social context. Systems Therapy also developed, which focuses on family and group dynamics—and Transpersonal psychology, which focuses on the spiritual facet of human experience. Other important orientations developed in the last three decades include Feminist therapy, Brief therapy, Somatic Psychology, Expressive therapy, applied Positive psychology and the Human Givens approach which is building on the best of what has gone before. A survey of over 2,500 US therapists in 2006 revealed the most utilized models of therapy and the ten most influential therapists of the previous quarter-century.

Psychotherapy is a general term referring to therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client or patient; family, couple or group. The problems addressed are psychological in nature and of no specific kind or degree, but rather depend on the specialty of the practitioner.

Psychotherapy aims to increase the individual's sense of his/her own well-being. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialog, communication and behavior change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships (such as in a family).

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Review Date: 
February 15, 2012