Therapy

Whether you’re navigating a difficult challenge, dealing with a mental illness, or looking to support your personal growth, talking to a therapist can help. Here’s useful information about what to expect with therapy and how to connect with a therapist.

What is therapy?

Therapy, called talk therapy or psychotherapy, involves working with a therapist to address mental health concerns. These can include troubling feelings, beliefs and behaviors, relationship issues, and somatic or physical symptoms related to psychological issues. Therapy can help you identify patterns, learn healthy ways to communicate and express your feelings, develop effective coping mechanisms, deal with mental health issues, and improve overall well-being.

Types of therapy

Therapists use many different types of therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is, perhaps, the most widely recognized. CBT identifies unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and works to change these patterns. It treats various concerns, including addiction, anger, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, panic attacks, personality disorders, and phobias.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a type of CBT, was developed for patients who struggle with strong emotional responses and reactivity. DBT is most often used with patients with borderline personality disorder, but it can help patients learn how to regulate strong emotions.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), another type of CBT, combines mindfulness skills with self-acceptance. ACT teaches patients to accept their thoughts and feelings, even those that are negative, rather than feel guilty or push back against them.

Psychodynamic therapy treats various concerns and encourages patients to self-reflect and examine the psychological roots of their emotional hardships.

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Therapy types

Individual therapy

Individual therapy is when a patient works one-on-one with a therapist.

Group therapy

Group therapy involves one or more licensed therapists working with several patients simultaneously. Often, these patients share the same or similar mental health concerns.

Family therapy

Relationship or couples’ therapy is for adult intimate partners. Couples therapy can help address issues rooted in the relationship’s past, improve sexual satisfaction, and increase intimacy.

Relationship therapy

Relationship or couples’ therapy is for adult intimate partners. Couples’ therapy, among other goals, can help address issues rooted in the relationship’s past, improve sexual satisfaction, and increase intimacy.

A happy couple sits on a couch with a laptop

Types of therapy clinicians

A credentialed therapist should conduct therapy sessions. There are various types of therapists, each with different licenses, degrees, and licensing boards. Understanding the differences allows you to identify which therapist can best help you.

Clinical social workers

Licensed master social workers (LMSWs) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) provide therapy, diagnose, and treat emotional and behavioral issues.

Although licensure exams and acronyms can vary by state, both LMSWs and LCSWs have master’s degrees in social work from an accredited program and have passed a licensing exam. The difference is that LCSWs can practice independently, while LMSWs require supervision.

Psychologists

Psychologists typically hold a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). All psychologists pass a national exam. Depending on the state in which they practice, they must also pass additional licensing tests and complete further years of supervised practice.

Psychologists conduct clinical interviews, psychological tests, and evaluations. Like social workers, they can identify emotional and behavioral patterns, diagnose disorders, and create treatment plans to manage mental health challenges.

Psychiatrists or psychiatric clinicians

Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They must earn either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) and then complete residency training in psychiatry. Psychiatrists must be licensed in the state where they practice. They may also be designated as board-certified by the Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. Psychiatrists diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe medications, monitor their effectiveness, and occasionally provide therapy.

Similar to a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs) can also provide mental health assessments, diagnoses, and therapy. Depending on the state where they practice, they may also prescribe and monitor medications.

Counselors and other therapists

Therapists and counselors differ among their credentials and acronyms, which can vary by state. Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) specialize in relationships, including couples and families. Types of counselors include licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), licensed professional counselors (LPCs), licensed clinical professional counselors (LCPCs), licensed professional clinical counselors (LPCCs), and more.

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How can therapy help?

Therapy offers many short- and long-term benefits. Therapy gives patients a safe space to talk through concerns, beliefs, behaviors, and more. It can help patients better recognize the patterns in their life and develop healthy solutions and coping skills. Therapy can also help patients understand why they think, feel, and behave in certain ways. It can make them more aware of how their behaviors affect others.

The core benefits of therapy center on understanding emotions, changing behaviors, and addressing conflict in a healthy way. With therapy, patients can develop stronger communication skills, sleep better, increase life satisfaction, enhance productivity and function, feel empowered, build healthier relationships, and improve physical well-being.

What does therapy help?

Therapy is an effective tool for diagnosing and treating mental health concerns. These include addiction, anxiety, mood disorders, and schizophrenia.

When it comes to clinical concerns, therapy is an effective tool to diagnose and treat mental health problems. These can include addiction, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia.

Patients who don’t have a clinical issue can benefit from therapy. Therapy is an effective way to help manage stress, cope with difficult or traumatic experiences, and process conflict, grief, or life transitions.

What to expect in therapy?

The first therapy session may, in many ways, feel similar to a doctor’s appointment. Whether it’s an in-person or online appointment, you’ll likely start by filling out some paperwork. If it’s in-person, you’ll sit in a waiting room until you are called in. If it’s online, you’ll log on and wait in a virtual waiting room.

Your first therapy session will likely be different from future sessions. During the first visit, you and your therapist will take some time to get to know each other. They may want to know why you are seeking therapy, in addition to more general questions about your concerns and background. They will discuss office policies and encourage you to ask questions.

Your very first therapy session will help your therapist understand your concerns, answer questions, and discuss treatment options. Future sessions will provide you the therapeutic space to explore specific symptoms, problems, or past experiences.

Online vs. in-person therapy

Therapy sessions are typically held in person or online. Each offers unique benefits.

In-person sessions offer patients a safe, private, and neutral environment that is free from distractions. Face-to-face sessions also allow therapists to observe a patient’s non-verbal cues. Some therapies, such as art, music, and play, are more suited to in-person appointments.

Online sessions are convenient because they allow patients see their therapist from virtually anywhere. Patients do not have to take time commuting to appointments. Online sessions can also remove barriers to treatment, especially for those who struggle to get around or who are socially anxious. Some therapists may offer a combination of in-person and online appointments.

What to expect in therapy?

The first therapy session may feel similar to a doctor’s appointment. Whether an in-person or virtual appointment, you’ll likely start by completing paperwork. If your appointment is in person, you’ll sit in a waiting room until you are called into a room to talk with a therapist. You’ll log on and wait in a virtual waiting room if it’s online.

Your first therapy session will likely be different from future sessions. During the first visit, you and your therapist will take some time to get to know each other. They may want to know why you are seeking therapy, in addition to more general questions about your concerns and background. They will discuss office policies and encourage you to ask your own questions.

The first session helps your therapist understand your concerns, answer questions, and discuss treatment options. Future sessions allow you to explore specific symptoms, problems, or past experiences.

In-person vs. online therapy

Therapy sessions are typically held either in person or online. Each offers unique benefits.

In-person sessions offer a safe, private, and neutral environment free from distractions. Patients do not have to commute to appointments. Online sessions remove barriers to treatment, especially for people who struggle to get around or are socially anxious.

Therapy can end for several reasons. In most cases, the decision to end therapy depends on the patient and their needs. Patients may have accomplished their mental health goals or need a break from therapy. Whatever the reason, your therapist will work with you to support your goals.

When does therapy end?

Therapy can come to an end for any number of reasons. In most cases, the decision to end therapy will depend on the patient and their needs. Patients may have accomplished their mental health goals or feel they need a break from therapy. Whatever the reason, your therapist will work with you to support your goals.

Finding the right therapist

There are many ways to find the right therapist.

Some people will ask for referral from someone they trust, such as a physician. Online directories allow patients to explore clinician profiles and learn about their education, areas of focus, accepted insurances, and more.

You may ask potential therapists some questions to determine if they are a good fit. These can include:

  • How do you work with patients? 
  • How much experience do you have dealing with my issue?
  • What kinds of treatments have you found effective in resolving this issue?
  • How do scheduling and payments work?