Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, is the process by which a person attends sessions with a therapist to talk through their experiences. Types of talking therapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral therapy, and more.

In talk therapy, a psychologist will discuss previous traumas and psychiatric conditions with a person in order to treat, evaluate, and diagnose various mental health conditions. The psychologist will help people resolve and process issues verbally. They may also help individuals forge a path forward through disorders that have interfered with daily activities.

Keep reading to learn more about talk therapy, including how it works, the various conditions it may benefit, and how a person could choose a type of therapy that may work best for them.

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Talk therapy involves a person enrolling in psychotherapy sessions with a licensed psychologist, psychiatric nurse, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. All of these individuals are qualified to facilitate therapy, and should apply scientifically validated procedures to improve the mental health and well-being of their clients, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

In a talk therapy session, a counselor may help a person do the following:

  • gain a better understanding of their emotions
  • identify roadblocks and obstacles to optimal mental health
  • overcome anxiety and insecurities
  • cope with stress
  • process previous traumatic experiences
  • work on breaking unhealthy habits
  • discuss possible lifestyle changes
  • pinpoint triggers

At its core, talk therapy, or psychotherapy, allows a person to discuss their concerns, goals, and challenges with a person who holds no biases and no judgments. After a series of sessions, talk therapy should help a person target, and eventually change, patterns of thought and behavior that may be a hindrance to a healthy state of mind. These sessions will always be strictly confidential.

Generally speaking, when a person enrolls in talk therapy, the therapist, or other healthcare professional leading the sessions, will ask several questions during an initial appointment. This is for the therapist to gain a comprehensive understanding of the person’s history and background, so they can decide on the best course of treatment. Questions at this stage tend to be around the following:

  • family history of mental health conditions
  • past traumas
  • how the patient is coping with their issues in daily life
  • what they hope to achieve through talk therapy

Once they have this information, a therapist will proceed with treatment.

Talk therapy should be an open-ended dialogue about any issues or concerns a person is facing. A psychotherapist may take notes while a person shares information about their family life, relationships, childhood experiences, and symptoms or history of a condition, to name a few examples.

There is no limit on the number of talk therapy sessions a person might attend to gain a deeper understanding of their condition, habits, or challenges. A therapist may recommend regular sessions until they and the person have come up with an action plan for treatment or until the person has made lifestyle improvements.

One of the primary goals of therapy is to address the problem or problems that are overwhelming to a person. These do not always have to be major traumatic experiences, such as divorce, grief, loss, anxiety, job loss, or addiction. People may wish to discuss themselves in general, exploring their past experiences in order to gain a better understanding of themselves and their thought and behavior patterns.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to dialogue and discussion during talk therapy. The facilitator of a session may ask some questions to help a person get started. In other cases, the person undertaking the therapy sessions may talk about whatever is on their mind, and the discussion will stem from there.

A person should never feel forced or pushed by their therapist to discuss events or experiences they are not yet ready to address. If a therapist asks a question that a person feels uncomfortable answering, the person can simply state that they do not wish to discuss it. A therapist may try to guide discussions, allowing the person to make connections between experiences, thoughts, and behaviors, but a therapist will not force a person to discuss things they do not wish to discuss.

Anyone can potentially benefit from therapy sessions, from those who could use some more clarity and direction in life to people who are struggling with mental health conditions.

That said, there are a few conditions that psychotherapy might be particularly helpful for:

This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of conditions that might benefit from talk therapy. Anything that interferes with a person’s usual daily life may benefit from talk therapy sessions.

According to the APA, there are five main categories of psychotherapy or talk therapy.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy seeks to correct self-destructive or self-loathing behaviors by replacing them with healthier ones. This is a common treatment option for people with:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • panic disorder
  • anger issues
  • OCD
  • self-harming tendencies
  • addiction
  • eating disorders

Behavioral therapy may be an option for both adults and children.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) places emphasis on how a person’s core beliefs influence their thought patterns, which in turn affect behavioral patterns. CBT primarily helps people identify and correct negative patterns of thought. It may employ techniques such as self-monitoring, mindfulness, and questioning or challenging harmful thoughts.

Learn more about CBT here.

Humanistic therapy

This is a type of therapy that helps patients focus on self-actualization, or living a life that is true to their real self in order to reach fulfillment. Within this type of therapy is client-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.

Psychodynamic therapy

Of all five categories, psychodynamic therapy is most synonymous with talk therapy. It involves diving into the unconscious meanings and motivations of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to analyze what might be driving them.

The person undertaking the therapy might have a treatable condition or may need to address a specific distressing circumstance that is driving their reactions.

Learn more about psychodynamic therapy here.

Holistic or integrative therapy

A therapist may employ holistic therapy, which involves coming up with a personalized treatment plan that incorporates a variety of therapy types to better serve a person’s needs.

To treat a person’s problems more effectively, a therapist may choose to work with one or more of these five approaches in therapy sessions.

There are several types of therapy that fall within these larger categories. Learn about them here.

Another common approach to treating many of the problems addressed in therapy, such as mental health conditions, is prescription medication. That said, people may find that they benefit most from a combination of both talk therapy and medication to treat moderate to severe symptoms.

If a person with mild symptoms is not ready for talk therapy or medication, they might also try a variety of stress-reduction techniques to manage their symptoms. Anxiety, for instance, may be alleviated by regular exercise, meditation, and a healthy lifestyle and diet. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that exercise works as well as medication for some people, and may even have longer lasting effects.

Learn more about natural remedies for anxiety here.

A therapist will usually try to pinpoint the type of therapy that is best for treating a person’s condition. Often, the therapist will disclose the type of therapy they believe will be most beneficial during the initial appointment after having a conversation about the person’s emotional state, challenges, and goals.

Alternatively, a person may choose the type of therapy they would like to receive by selecting a therapist who specializes in that area. In this sense, the type of therapy an individual chooses goes hand in hand with the therapist they will use. Some psychologists specialize in CBT, which may be particularly effective in treating symptoms associated with anxiety. Meanwhile, people lacking self-esteem, a sense of purpose, or who are struggling with how they can reach their full potential might find humanistic therapy to be a good fit.

Ultimately, the type of therapy a person selects should be a method that is proven to address their issues and identify possible solutions. As mentioned earlier, a mental health professional can help a person choose the correct form of therapy for them.

Similar to choosing a therapy type, a person should select a therapist with careful consideration. It is important to understand that therapists are all very different. That is to say, each person will have slightly different needs. It is perfectly acceptable to switch therapists if one is not adequately meeting a person’s needs, even if that therapist has experience with the person’s condition and comes highly recommended. Talk therapy is a very personal experience that requires a great deal of honesty and opening up. This means the personality of a therapist may matter a great deal.

While the task of selecting a therapist can seem overwhelming, an individual may find it helpful to begin by targeting what their reasons are for seeking therapy. For example, if a person is constantly on edge, or experiencing frequent anger issues or depressive episodes, they might search for a therapist who specializes in anxiety and depression.

A healthcare professional might also be of help during this process. If a general practitioner diagnoses a person with a mental health condition, they might also be able to help in recommending therapists who have experience with that particular condition.

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is an effective means of treating mental health conditions and recurring stressors that interfere with daily life.

There are several types of therapy that a person might consider for treating their specific issues, including behavioral therapy, CBT, humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and holistic therapy.

A therapist can help pinpoint core issues, triggers, negative or harmful patterns of behavior, and more to aid in treatment of a problem.