Psychotherapy is often used either alone or in combination with medications to treat mental illnesses. Called "therapy" for short, the word psychotherapy actually involves a variety of treatment techniques. During psychotherapy, a person with a mental illness talks to a licensed and trained mental health care professional who helps him or her identify and work through the factors that may be triggering the illness.
Psychotherapy helps people with a mental disorder to:
Understand the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that contribute to his or her illness and learning how to modify them.
Understand and identify the life problems or events -- like a major illness, a death in the family, a loss of a job, or a divorce -- that contribute to their illness and help them understand which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve.
Regain a sense of control and pleasure in life.
Learn coping techniques and problem-solving skills.
Types of Therapy
Therapy can be given in a variety of formats, including:
Individual: This therapy involves only the patient and the therapist.
Group: Two or more patients may participate in therapy at the same time. Patients are able to share experiences and learn that others feel the same way and have had the same experiences.
Marital/couples: This type of therapy helps spouses and partners understand why their loved one has a mental disorder, what changes in communication and behaviors can help, and what they can do to cope.
Family: Because family is a key part of the team that helps people with mental illness get better, it is sometimes helpful for family members to understand what their loved one is going through, how they themselves can cope, and what they can do to help.
Approaches to Therapy
While therapy can be done in different formats -- like family, group, and individual -- there are also several different approaches that mental health professionals can take to provide therapy. After talking with the patient about their disorder, the therapist will decide which approach to use based on the suspected underlying factors contributing to the condition.
Different approaches to therapy include:
Psychodynamic therapy is based on the assumption that a person is having emotional problems because of unresolved, generally unconscious conflicts, often stemming from childhood. The goal of this type of therapy is for the patient to understand and cope better with these feelings by talking about the experiences. Psychodynamic therapy is administered over a period of at least several months, although it can last longer, even years.
Interpersonal therapy focuses on the behaviors and interactions a patient has with family and friends. The primary goal of this therapy is to improve communication skills and increase self-esteem during a short period of time. It usually lasts three to four months and works well for depression caused by mourning, relationship conflicts, major life events, and social isolation.