The "About Psychotherapy" section of our site provides an introduction
to choosing a therapist, types of psychotherapy, types of
psychotherapists, modes of psychotherapy, and some information about
confidentiality, fees, and insurance for mental health services.
The decision to start therapy is an important one. The choice of
therapist is no less important. If one has not had previous experience with
therapy, initiating the process can be confusing and intimidating.
The overviews on these pages will help to make the landscape clearer by
defining and explaining common terms, all those letters after
therapists' names, how fees and insurance work, and other important
Below is an article that provides an overview of
psychotherapy. Use the above menu to navigate between the topics in
this section for more in depth information.
How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy
By American Psychological Association
Millions of Americans have found relief from depression and other
emotional difficulties through psychotherapy. Even so, some people find
it hard to get started or stay in psychotherapy. This brief
question-and-answer guide provides some basic information to help
individuals take advantage of outpatient (non-hospital) psychotherapy.
Why do people consider using psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a partnership between an individual and a professional
such as a psychologist who is licensed and trained to help people
understand their feelings and assist them with changing their behavior.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one-third of
adults in the United States experience an emotional or substance abuse
problem. Nearly 25 percent of the adult population suffers at some point
from depression or anxiety.
People often consider psychotherapy, also known as therapy, under the
They feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of
sadness and helplessness, and they lack hope in their lives.
Their emotional difficulties make it hard for them
to function from day to day. For example, they are unable to
concentrate on assignments and their job performance suffers as a
Their actions are harmful to themselves or to
others. For instance, they drink too much alcohol and become overly
They are troubled by emotional difficulties facing
family members or close friends.
What does research show about the effectiveness of
Research suggests that therapy effectively decreases patients'
depression and anxiety and related symptoms -- such as pain, fatigue and
nausea. Psychotherapy has also been found to increase survival time for
heart surgery and cancer patients, and it can have a positive effect on
the body's immune system. Research increasingly supports the idea that
emotional and physical health are very closely linked and that therapy
can improve a person's overall health status.
There is convincing evidence that most people who have at least several
sessions of psychotherapy are far better off than untreated individuals
with emotional difficulties. One major study showed that 50 percent of
patients noticeably improved after eight sessions while 75 percent of
individuals in psychotherapy improved by the end of six months.
Psychotherapy with children is similar in effectiveness to psychotherapy
How do I find a qualified therapist?
Selecting a therapist is a highly personal matter.
A professional who works very well with one individual may not be a good
choice for another person. There are several ways to get referrals to
qualified therapists such as licensed psychologists, including the
Talk to close family members and friends for their
recommendations, especially if they have had a good experience with
Many state psychological associations operate
referral services which put individuals in touch with licensed and
competent mental health providers. (Call the American Psychological
Association's Practice Directorate at 202-336-5800 for the name and
phone number of the appropriate state organization.)
Ask your primary care physician (or other health
professional) for a referral. Tell the doctor what's important to you
in choosing a therapist so he or she can make appropriate suggestions.
Inquire at your church or synagogue.
Look in the phone book for the listing of a local
mental health association or community mental health center and check
these sources for possible referrals.
Ideally, you will end up with more than one lead. Call
and request the opportunity, either by phone or in person, to ask the
therapist some questions. You might want to inquire about his or her
licensure and level of training, approach to psychotherapy,
participation in insurance plans and fees. Such a discussion should help
you sort through your options and choose someone with whom you believe
you might interact well.
If I begin psychotherapy, how should I try to gain the most from it?
There are many approaches to outpatient psychotherapy and various
formats in which it may occur -- including individual, group and family
psychotherapy. Despite the variations, all psychotherapy is a two-way
process that works especially well when patients and their therapists
communicate openly. Research has shown that the outcome of psychotherapy
is improved when the therapist and patient agree early about what the
major problems are and how psychotherapy can help.
You and your therapist both have responsibilities in establishing and
maintaining a good working relationship. Be clear with your therapist
about your expectations and share any concerns that may arise.
Psychotherapy works best when you attend all scheduled sessions and give
some forethought to what you want to discuss during each one.
How can I evaluate whether therapy is working well?
As you begin psychotherapy, you should establish clear goals with your
therapist. Perhaps you want to overcome feelings of hopelessness
associated with depression. Or maybe you would like to control a fear
that disrupts your daily life. Keep in mind that certain tasks require
more time to accomplish than others. You may need to adjust your goals
depending on how long you plan to be in psychotherapy.
After a few sessions, it's a good sign if you feel the experience truly
is a joint effort and that you and the therapist enjoy a good rapport.
On the other hand, you should be open with your therapist if you find
yourself feeling 'stuck' or lacking direction once you've been in
There may be times when a therapist appears cold and disinterested or
doesn't seem to regard you positively. Tell your therapist if this is
the situation, or if you question other aspects of his or her approach.
If you find yourself thinking about discontinuing psychotherapy, talk
with your therapist. It might be helpful to consult another
professional, provided you let your therapist know you are seeking a
Patients often feel a wide range of emotions during psychotherapy. Some
qualms about psychotherapy that people may have result from the
difficulty of discussing painful and troubling experiences. When this
happens, it can actually be a positive sign indicating that you are
starting to explore your thoughts and behaviors.
You should spend time with your therapist periodically reviewing your
progress (or your concern that you are not making sufficient headway).
Although there are other considerations affecting the duration of
psychotherapy, success in reaching your primary goals should be a major
factor in deciding when your psychotherapy should end.
Psychotherapy isn't easy. But patients who are willing to work in close
partnership with their therapist often find relief from their emotional
distress and begin to lead more productive and fulfilling lives.