Psychotherapy is a treatment that tries to eliminate or control mental symptoms through talking. It is a relationship between a therapist and a client. Different types of therapy are used. Each is based on different principles, structure, and methods. The therapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, nurse, or other professionally trained counselor.

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People with a wide range of problems can be helped with psychotherapy. The common reasons a person might seek therapy include:
  • severe emotional pain such as sadness, depression, anxiety, and grief
  • problems in relationships with a spouse, parent, child, coworker, or other persons
  • problems with communication skills
  • problems with controlling anger
  • sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction
  • a recent loss, such as a death or separation
  • being a victim of trauma or abuse
  • needing help with a clinical disorder or condition
  • needing help with problems that have kept a person from reaching their goals
Finding the "right" therapist is very important. The right therapist is different for different people. Good places to start looking include one's family physician, community mental health center, or a professional recommended by family or friends.
The relationship between a therapist and a client is unique. Mutual trust, respect, and confidentiality are important. Both the client and the therapist have clear roles. The client must be honest and willing to reveal uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. He or she needs to be able to address problems and be open to new insights. In some cases, the person may be given "homework" activities.
The therapist's role is to listen carefully. He or she must also help to interpret a person's thoughts and actions. The therapist helps point out problems that may not be obvious. He or she helps guide the client to see problems and solutions. The therapist also needs to help the client change unhealthy patterns of thought or behavior.
The relationship is strictly professional. The purpose of the therapy is to help the client. The therapist is there for the client and expects only payment for the time.
The amount of time a person spends in therapy depends on many factors. These include the nature of the illness or problem being treated and the ability of the person to pay for the therapy in some cases. Most people get some benefit after two to three months of therapy, where treatment sessions are weekly.
Therapists are subject to a number of legal rules including confidentiality, reporting to authorities in cases such as suspected child abuse or immediate suicide risk, and strict prohibitions on behavior that could be interpreted as sexual or inappropriately intimate. For these reasons, and because therapy carries a risk of emotional harm to a person if not done properly, one should consult only a therapist with appropriate training and state licensure.



Hales, Robert, Textbook of Psychiatry, 2nd edition 1994

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997

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