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Psychotherapy – what is it and how does it work?

Mention the word psychotherapy and for many people the name of Sigmund Freud pops up. Psychotherapy has come a long way since the days of Freud whose historic figure reminds us of the evolution of this practice.

Defining psychotherapy can sometimes be a bit like nailing jelly to a wall because it means something different even to some of its practitioners. It does however have core principles that will define it in every shape and form that it is delivered. Psychotherapy is a treatment that treats both emotional and mental health conditions with talking and activity based therapies rather than using medical methods.

Even though psychotherapy is offered as a one to one treatment, it is also delivered to couples and groups. The diversity of delivery also means that there are a diverse number of techniques employed. In fact, some clients may even have heard of different therapies not realising that they are psychotherapeutic techniques.

Types of psychotherapy

There are many types of therapies and sub types.

Psychodynamic therapy or counselling

Therapies most often associated with psychotherapy are the psychodynamic treatments. These involve discussing whatever is going through the mind of the client at the time. Together with the therapist the client then develops an awareness of thought patterns in their words and behaviour that may be contributing to the difficulties that they are experiencing.

Cognitive Behavioural therapy

This is an excellent therapy that addresses the ways in which a client’s thoughts and beliefs influence the way that they behave. By developing an understanding, the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour, the client can then make changes that will improve the outcome and thus their quality of life.

Interpersonal psychotherapy

This type of treatment considers the way that events – usually involving relationships with others trigger illness. Events can involve relationship conflict, bereavement or even relocation that separates people. This therapy focuses on developing coping strategies, especially around the feelings that are involved.

Humanist therapies

The best known of humanistic therapies is that made famous by Carl Rogers – PCT or person centred therapy. It works around how the person perceives themselves. This therapy focuses on self actualisation and improvement of self awareness.

Systemic therapy

Systemic therapy is applied to couples and family groups. The aim of this approach is to enable couples and family groups to work out ways through their problems and the conflict involved in the way that they relate. Systemic therapy offers a practical approach rather than an analytical one and is particularly useful in helping families overcome obstacles in conflict resolution.

Psychotherapy can be divided further into multiple different classes and sub groups, but it is usually delivered in one of the above mentioned ways. It can be provided inter alia in the form of one to one treatment, art or dance movement and drama therapy as part of a group and privately.

Who is psychotherapy for?

Psychotherapy is a method used to treat clients that are experiencing any of a variety of problems. These could be mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or personality disorders. But there could be other reasons to treat a person with psychotherapy. Clients that suffer with OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder), addictions, anxiety disorders, depression and long term illness all make excellent candidates for psychotherapy.

People that are in or have been recently discharged from hospital with undiagnosed medical conditions, eating disorders and drug rehabilitation will often be referred for psychotherapy too.

Where to find a therapist

To gain access to psychotherapy does not require a doctor’s referral. Although a request to a GP is common anyone can self refer. Sometimes a person is a little embarrassed to ask for help through mainstream methods and would prefer to approach a professional for assistance with a degree of privacy.

Using reputable resources such as Uktherapyguide, these will help locate the therapist that is right for the client. A professional therapist will usually guide a potential client to an alternative professional if they do not manage the kind of treatment that they believe that the client will need.

Therapists in the UK are regulated by several bodies including the BACP – British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the ACP - Association of Child Psychotherapists, the BPC – The British Psychoanalytic council and several others. New clients can ask how their therapist is accredited and which regulating body they are registered with.

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