Talk Therapy: What Is It?By Beacon Care Services • 26 Oct 2018
- Talk therapy includes a wide range of ways to treat mental health conditions.
- It involves talking with a therapist, either alone or with others.
- Which type of talk therapy is best for you?
Sometimes called counseling, talk therapy is a basic part of mental health care. It works through talks between a therapist and a person seeking help, and it aims to teach both self-knowledge and coping skills. As the National Institute of Mental Health describes, it is “a way to treat people with a mental disorder by helping them understand their illness.” It does not rely on drugs, though it often is used as part of a plan that includes them.
Hundreds of talk therapy techniques are in use today. It is hard to do research on how well all the types work. Some of the most studied and often helpful include cognitive-behavioral therapy, behavior therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.
For most issues therapists use methods such as these alone or at the same time:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The most widely found. CBT trains you to avoid unhealthy ways of thinking while teaching you better mental habits. It plays a key role in treating bipolar disorders, stress reactions, panic disorders, depression, and anxiety. A course of CBT is most often short. About 16 sessions is typical. It sets a specific goal, such as conquering a phobia or stopping a compulsive behavior. CBT often calls for homework like breath work for stress or to keep a record of your thoughts.
Behavior therapy works by setting up very structured ways of reinforcing actions that are desired. It also finds a mixture of nondisciplinary ways of getting rid of bad behaviors. It is more often used with younger children and people who may have limited verbal skills. It can be helpful to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in some children.
Psychodynamic therapy. While CBT works with the conscious mind, this method digs deeper. It goes into the unconscious forces that drive thoughts and behavior. It focuses on our past and how we may be reacting to it in harmful ways. It is the basis for many methods. It can help with issues such as eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.
As well as one-to-one meetings, these may also be helpful:
Group therapy. In this method, a therapist meets with a small number of people who share the same problem. The group setting can be helpful in many ways. It can lead to shared insights, it can give a sense of belonging, and it can help people let go of their emotions by expressing them to others. One use of it is for treating PTSD.
Family therapy. Like group, family therapy involves many people. Its goal is to help people learn from each other better ways to get over conflicts. It also can help families deal with the stress of one member’s illness, such as autism.
Other therapies help with specific issues or use unique methods. Exposure therapy helps people face their fears by carefully showing them things that upset or frighten them.
Specific healing methods may help treat specific problem areas. Biofeedback techniques, including neurofeedback, track brain activity to treat stress and anxiety disorders such as PTSD. Some therapists also use relaxation methods, including hypnosis, to treat anxiety and mood disorders.
What type of talk therapy will work for you?
The answer depends on at least two things. One is the type of problem. As the American Psychological Association points out, it is important to “choose the type that best addresses the person’s problem and best fits the patient’s characteristics and preferences.” The treatment plan being followed by your therapist and health worker are also very important. Mental health doctors and insurers prefer methods that can meet clear goals quickly. It often calls for drugs along with therapy for illnesses like bipolar disorder, major depression, and ADHD.
Finally, keep in mind that the goal of therapy is to fix a certain problem. In the language of health plans and doctors, it is acute treatment. You can’t expect it to change your life or nature in basic ways. But it should get you back to your normal state before too long.