Psychotherapy is often used either alone or in combination with medications to treat mental illnesses. Called "therapy" for short, the word psychotherapy actually involves a variety of treatment techniques. During psychotherapy, a person with a mental illness talks to a licensed and trained mental health care professional who helps him or her identify and work through the factors that may be triggering their illness.
Psychotherapy helps people with a mental disorder:
Therapy can be given in a variety of formats, including:
While therapy can be done in different formats -- like family, group, and individual -- there are also several different approaches that mental health professionals can take to provide therapy. After talking with the patient about their disorder, the therapist will decide which approach to use based on the suspected underlying factors contributing to the condition.
Different approaches to therapy include:
Psychodynamic therapy is based on the assumption that a person is mentally ill because of unresolved, generally unconscious conflicts, often stemming from childhood. The goal of this type of therapy is for the patient to understand and cope better with these feelings by talking about the experiences. Psychodynamic therapy is administered over a period of three to four months, although it can last longer, even years.
Interpersonal therapy focuses on the behaviors and interactions a patient has with family and friends. The primary goal of this therapy is to improve communication skills and increase self-esteem during a short period of time. It usually lasts three to four months and works well for depression caused by mourning, relationship conflicts, major life events, and social isolation.
Psychodynamic and interpersonal therapies help patients resolve mental illness caused by:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people with mental illness to identify and change inaccurate perceptions that they may have of themselves and the world around them. The therapist helps the patient establish new ways of thinking by directing attention to both the "wrong" and "right" assumptions they make about themselves and others.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is recommended for patients:
Therapy works best when you attend all of your scheduled appointments. The effectiveness of therapy depends on your active participation. It requires time, effort, and regularity.
As you begin therapy, establish some goals with your therapist. Then spend time periodically reviewing your progress with your therapist. If you don't like your therapist's approach or if you don't think the therapist is helping you, talk to him or her about it and seek a second opinion if both you and your therapist agree, but don't discontinue therapy abruptly.
Here are some tips to use when starting therapy for the first time:
Remember, therapy involves evaluating your thoughts and behaviors, identifying stresses that contribute to your condition, and working to modify both. People who actively participate in therapy recover more quickly and have fewer relapses.
Also, keep in mind, therapy is treatment that addresses specific causes of mental illness; it is not a "quick fix." It takes longer to begin to work than medication, but there is evidence to suggest that its effects last longer. Medication may be needed immediately in cases of severe mental illness, but the combination of therapy and medicine is very effective.