ABCs of Mental Health Care

Treatment Types

print What is Psychotherapy?

Given the range of procedures that are considered "psychotherapy," it is difficult to arrive at a complete definition for the word. Indeed, the distinction between the various schools of psychotherapy is based on the emphasis placed on different components. Still, it is probably safe to define psychotherapy as a process whereby psychological problems are treated through communication and relationship factors between an individual and the therapist.

While most psychotherapy hinges on communication between the therapist and the individual, it is much more than talking about your problems. While family or friends can help us feel better or even provide good advice for change, this is not psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a professional relationship between a therapist and client, which is based on therapeutic principles, structure and technique. It differs from other relationships in several ways.

Nature of the relationship

The relationship between a therapist and client is strictly professional. That is, the relationship exists only and solely for the purpose of helping the patient. The therapist is there for the patient and expects nothing in return but payment for the time.

This is an important point. The therapeutic relationship differs from all other types of relationships that we encounter. We can tell the therapist things without having to worry about this information being told to others or in any way affecting our job, family or relationships. An individual can be honest with the therapist without having to worry about offending a friend or neighbor. When a therapist asks how you are doing, he really wants to know. This is different from casual or social conversation in which the person who asks the questions expects you to say, "OK" so he can tell you how he is doing.

A therapist reveals little about himself to the patient. This ensures that the therapist does not do anything to change how the individual presents himself. Extending the relationship beyond the therapeutic setting is not considered psychotherapy and is often harmful to the client.

Nature of communication

Therapists are trained to understand what you say your words, how you say it and what words you choose not to use. They pay attention to things such as body language and voice tone to fully understand your speech. Having learned about and treated people with your condition before, they are in a good position to understand your particular problems. They are familiar with the symptoms of various psychiatric illnesses and problems of daily living. They know what questions to ask and might ask questions that you have never been asked before. As noted above, the communication between patient and therapist is not equal. Therapists will rarely reveal their opinions or stances on various issues (e.g., abortion, politics).


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