What Is Talk Therapy?
Everyone experiences periods of emotional distress. For some people, psychological problems are short-term, and no treatment is needed. But when feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression become overwhelming and interfere with your everyday life, talk therapy can make a significant difference in how you feel.
During individual talk therapy sessions, therapists often take an active role in leading the conversation. Therapy sessions may focus on past or current mental health issues, experiences, thoughts, feelings, and relationships, with many online therapy platforms offering teletherapy options.
Studies have found psychotherapy treatment to improve symptoms among a wide variety of mental illnesses, making it a popular and versatile treatment. Psychotherapy can also be used in a family, couples, or group setting. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the best practice for treating many mental health conditions includes a combination of medication and talk therapy.
Whether you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one or feeling overwhelmed with stress, talk therapy can help relieve your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and help you develop healthy coping strategies.
Types of Talk Therapy
Therapists offer many different therapeutic interventions. Some people respond better to one type of therapy than another, and your therapist will consider factors like the nature of your mental health concerns and personality when determining which psychotherapy treatment will be most effective.
Some common types of talk therapy include:
Psychodynamic therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on understanding the unconscious mental processes that influence a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Psychodynamic psychotherapy helps clients identify these unconscious processes and understand their connections to past experiences.
To reach a more intimate level of discussion and discovery during psychodynamic psychotherapy sessions, your therapist may implement one or more of the following techniques:
- Free association: During free association, you’ll be able to talk openly without censoring or interrupting the flow of your thoughts and feelings. Free association can help you return to a more childlike emotional state, allowing you and your therapist to identify the roots of your mental health issues and foster a stronger therapeutic relationship.
- Interpretation: Your psychotherapist may take a more active role in therapy sessions by commenting on memories you’ve shared or encouraging further exploration through open-ended questions.
- Exploring transference: After developing a strong relationship with your therapist, you may begin to transfer feelings or thoughts connected with other people—such as your spouse, children, or family members—to your therapist. Exploring transference enables you and your therapists to discuss the perceptions and interpretations you have of other people.
Many psychodynamic psychotherapists consider therapy to be an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. Psychodynamic therapy can help provide relief from symptoms while assisting clients to gain a greater sense of self-awareness.
Ultimately, psychodynamic therapy helps enhance self-reflection, according to psychologist Jonathan Shedler. Through careful observation of particular patterns of thinking and feeling, you and your therapist can identify the roots of unhelpful behaviors to gain perspective on your current situation.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on exploring the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT relies on the concept that mental health problems are based on unhelpful thinking habits and learned patterns of problematic behaviors. CBT treatment involves two main components:
- Cognitive therapy helps clients learn to recognize distortions in thought patterns, actively challenge them, and use problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.
- Behavioral therapy helps clients face fears instead of avoiding them through using role-playing to prepare for difficult situations and learning to calm the mind and body.
In CBT, your therapist will actively work with you to identify and challenge unhealthy thinking patterns to determine how they may be related to self-destructive behaviors and distorted beliefs. During your first session, your therapist will likely focus on assessing your situation and setting goals. You’ll be able to discuss your mental health challenges, set goals for what you hope to achieve during therapy, and begin developing a comprehensive treatment plan.
CBT therapy sessions typically involve a combination of homework assignments, structured therapy sessions, and group therapy sessions. By helping clients learn better coping tools, CBT helps clients take an active role in their treatment process and learn helpful strategies for independently dealing with mental health concerns in everyday life.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is based on the idea that personal relationships are at the center of mental health problems. IPT treatment focuses on the relationships an individual has with others, aiming to improve interpersonal skills.
During IPT, your psychotherapist will help you evaluate your social interactions to recognize negative patterns, such as avoidance, social isolation, or aggression. Ultimately, IPT helps clients learn healthy strategies to understand and interact positively with others.
Because people with depressive symptoms frequently experience difficulties in interpersonal relationships, IPT is most commonly used to treat depression. IPT can help people with depression navigate relationship issues, strengthen interpersonal relationships, and develop a social support network during the recovery process. This type of therapy can also effectively treat eating disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, substance use problems, and borderline personality disorder.
Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy most commonly used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and specific phobias. Exposure therapy involves identifying the triggers of anxiety and learning techniques to avoid becoming anxious when exposed to triggers. In a controlled environment, clients learn to confront feared situations or objects by safely implementing these strategies.
Most psychotherapists use a graded approach, in which mildly feared stimuli are initially targeted, followed by more strongly feared stimuli. To gradually confront triggers, therapists work collaboratively with clients to construct an exposure hierarchy. Traditionally, higher-level triggers aren’t attempted until the fear subsides for lower-level triggers.
Meanwhile, some therapists use flooding, in which the most difficult stimuli are initially targeted. In clinical practice, flooding and gradual approaches are equally effective in treating anxiety disorders. However, most psychotherapists implement a graded approach to help clients feel more comfortable during therapy sessions.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) utilizes mindfulness techniques to help individuals live and behave in ways consistent with their personal values. With the help of a psychotherapist, clients can recognize how their attempts to manage and control emotional responses create psychological challenges. By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, individuals can learn to make room for values-based actions that promote mental well-being.
Psychotherapists lead clients through several core processes to achieve psychological flexibility, the primary goal of ACT:
- Developing creative hopelessness involves exploring past attempts at avoiding mental health problems. By recognizing the lack of effectiveness of these attempts, ACT enables individuals to act more consistently with their values and beliefs.
- Accepting one’s emotional experience involves learning to experience emotions with a kind, open, and accepting perspective.
- Choosing valued life directions involves defining what is most essential and defining how one wishes to live their life.
- Taking action involves committing to making changes and engaging in behaviors that allow the individual to move in the direction of what is most valued.
Above all else, ACT treatment encourages individuals to embrace their thoughts and feelings instead of struggling with them or feeling guilty for them. ACT is not only effective for treating specific disorders, but it’s also useful in helping individuals develop a life-affirming perspective of self-determination.
Finding a Psychotherapist
Whether you’re struggling with mental health symptoms or searching for a new therapist, finding the right therapist is essential. According to the American Psychological Association, a strong therapeutic relationship can significantly influence the success of your psychotherapy treatment. When searching for a therapist, it’s essential to take the time to find someone you trust and feel comfortable opening up to.
When you’re ready to start your search, reach out to a mental health professional at the Therapy Group of DC. We’ll connect you to a psychologist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements.
One of the qualified psychologists at the Therapy Group of DC will help you design a custom treatment plan to manage your mental health and improve your quality of life.