Risks & Benefits Psychotherapy

What is Psychotherapy anyway?

Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider. Not everyone who benefits from psychotherapy is diagnosed with a mental illness. In fact, psychotherapy can help with a number of life’s stresses and conflicts that can affect anyone.

During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.

There are many types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach. The type of psychotherapy that’s right for you depends on your individual situation. Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy, counseling, psychosocial therapy or, simply, therapy.

How can it help me or my loved one?

Psychotherapy can be helpful in treating most mental health problems, including:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder
  • Addictions, such as alcoholism, drug dependence or compulsive gambling
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or dependent personality disorder

Psychotherapy can also be helpful in treating most day to day stressors, including:

  • Resolve conflicts with your partner or someone else in your life
  • Relieve anxiety or stress due to work or other situations
  • Cope with major life changes, such as divorce, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job
  • Learn to manage unhealthy reactions, such as road rage or passive-aggressive behavior
  • Come to terms with an ongoing or serious physical health problem, such as diabetes, cancer or long-term (chronic) pain
  • Recover from physical or sexual abuse or witnessing violence
  • Sleep better, if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)

In some cases, psychotherapy can be as effective as medications, such as antidepressants. However, depending on your specific situation, psychotherapy alone may not be enough to ease the symptoms of a mental health condition. You may also need medications or other natural holistic treatments.

Are there any risks?

Generally, there’s little risk in having psychotherapy. But because it can explore painful feelings and experiences, you may feel emotionally uncomfortable at times. Additionally, things may feel as though they are getting worse initially. However, any risks are minimized by working with a skilled therapist who can match the type and intensity of therapy with your needs.

The coping skills and new insights that you learn can help you manage and conquer negative feelings and fears.

What else should I know about it?

Psychotherapy may not cure your condition or make an unpleasant situation go away. But it can give you the power to cope in a healthy way and to feel better about yourself and your life.

Getting the most out of psychotherapy

Take steps to get the most out of your therapy and help make it a success.

  • Make sure you feel comfortable with your therapist. If you don’t, look for another therapist with whom you feel more at ease.
  • Approach therapy as a partnership. Therapy is most effective when you’re an active participant and share in decision-making. Make sure you and your therapist agree about the major issues and how to tackle them. Together, you can set goals and measure progress over time.
  • Be open and honest. Success depends on willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and to consider new insights, ideas and ways of doing things. If you’re reluctant to talk about certain issues because of painful emotions, embarrassment or fears about your therapist’s reaction, let your therapist know.
  • Stick to your treatment plan. If you feel down or lack motivation, it may be tempting to skip psychotherapy sessions. Doing so can disrupt your progress. Try to attend all sessions and to give some thought to what you want to discuss.
  • Don’t expect instant results. Working on emotional issues can be painful and may require hard work. You may need several sessions before you begin to see improvement.
  • Do your homework between sessions. If your therapist asks you to document your thoughts in a journal or do other activities outside of your therapy sessions, follow through. These homework assignments can help you apply what you’ve learned in the therapy sessions to your life.

If psychotherapy isn’t helping, talk to your therapist. If you don’t feel that you’re benefiting from therapy after several sessions, talk to your therapist about it. You and your therapist may decide to make some changes or try a different approach that may be more effective.

*Content derived from the Mayo Clinic