What is a Psychotherapist?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 21, 2023
3 min read

A psychotherapist uses talk therapy to treat people for emotional problems and mental illnesses. Depending on what degree and specialty they get, psychotherapists can be psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, or social workers. They can work with individuals, couples, groups, or families.

Psychotherapists use talk therapy to help you manage with general emotional unrest or acute trauma or illness. They treat everything from daily overwhelm to grief to specific mental disorders like depression or anxiety. Sometimes talk therapy is used in combination with medications or lifestyle changes. However, not all psychotherapists are licensed to prescribe medication. 

Psychotherapists use talk therapy to help you live a better, healthier life. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behavior, and to go along with positive changes in the body and brain.

The psychotherapist’s role in talk therapy is to: 

  • Offer a solution for your problem
  • Engage in discussion about it
  • Help you understand what you’re going through
  • Analyze your conversation 
  • Help you change your actions

Psychotherapists have special training in psychology and counseling. They complete graduate school to get their doctoral degree and become practicing therapists.

After completing an undergraduate degree, the process of becoming a psychotherapist includes: 

  • Get a doctoral degree. Some people only practice with a master’s, but they’re considered counselors, not psychologists or psychiatrists. (Each state will determine its requirements to practice as a psychotherapist.)
  • Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
  • Complete your practicum hours, usually between 1500 and 1600 hours of hands-on, supervised experience.

Psychotherapists use talk therapy to help you work through daily life troubles that include: 

  • Resolving relationship problems
  • Easing anxiety or stress from work or other situations
  • Living with major life changes
  • Managing unhealthy reactions
  • Coming to terms with a serious health issue
  • Recovering from abuse
  • Handling sexual problems
  • Getting better sleep 

Sometimes these daily issues can become bigger challenges. Psychotherapists diagnose and treat most mental health disorders like: 

If you’re experiencing any of these challenges, you may benefit from psychotherapy. Your psychotherapist will help you resolve these issues and begin feeling better.

Once you’ve found the right psychotherapist for you, you’ll have to do initial paperwork so they can understand you and your medical history. The first few sessions will help your therapist to get to know you and your situation. This let’s them determine the best style of treatment.

Psychotherapists can treat both adults and children. There may be short-term plans to heal immediate issues or long-term treatment plans to treat more complex challenges.

There are multiple types of therapy based on your particular circumstance and preference. These include: 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

This type of therapy helps you identify and change behavior patterns and thinking that may be harmful to you. You’ll work on replacing them with accurate thoughts and functional behaviors.  

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

This short-term treatment helps you understand your underlying interpersonal issues. It trains you to express your emotions better and improve communication with others. 

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychotherapists use this method to address and treat childhood trauma in order to improve behavior and mental wellness. 

Supportive therapy

This approach helps you develop your own resources to reduce anxiety, strengthen coping mechanisms, and improve social and community functioning. Psychotherapists use guidance and encouragement to help you.

If you are struggling with your mental health, consider reaching out to your doctor or a psychotherapy professional to discuss if talk therapy would be helpful for you.