The Effectiveness of Psychotherapy

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Josephine Hatton

In an age where mental health now has just as much focus as our physical health, we are hearing more and more about the most effective ways to treat it. As with our physical health, there is not a one size fits all approach, however there is one thing that is advised for the majority of moderate to severe mental health issues. It is even suggested to be beneficial for those who are not suffering. That is therapy or more accurately psychotherapy. But what is psychotherapy? How does it differ from counselling? What are the different approaches? And how effective is it really?

What we think of as “therapy” depends on the length of treatment

The lines between psychotherapy, therapy and counselling are blurry and not easily distinguished. In general, what we think of as “therapy” depends on the length of treatment. Counselling is thought of as short-term, talking treatment to aid a person in overcoming a specific problem in their life that is affecting their mental health, something like bereavement. Psychotherapy attempts to solve the root cause of any mental illness, so has a longer treatment plan. Psychotherapy may include other kinds of interaction besides pure conversation. However, these definitions are not completely agreed upon, to the point that even established institutions like the NHS will often lump them together to avoid confusion. The two psychological therapies are also used in conjunction with one another to treat a range of issues such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, bereavement and many more. Therapists may be able to give counselling, psychotherapy or both depending on their training. For moderate to severe mental illness, it might be coupled with medication to maximise efficacy.

There are many different types of psychotherapy but some of the main ones are listed below:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most well-known psychological therapies. It combines cognitive therapy (the way thoughts and beliefs can cause the patient issues) and behavioural psychotherapy (the reason and way in which the patient acts). The two therapies can be used separately but are often used together. CBT often involves ‘homework’ or tasks for the patient to do between sessions.

Cognitive analytical therapy (CAT) looks more at past experiences of the patient and links together common reactions, feelings and thoughts to try to help them to change this and move forward with different approaches.

Humanistic therapies focus on decision making and trying to maximise personal strengths to improve self-image and self-awareness. Interactions with others also play a large role in this type of therapy.

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) has a large focus on the relationships that the patient has with other people in their life and has shown particular effectiveness in treating depression.

Other therapies include: Dialect behaviour therapy, family and couple therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy and more.

Those who go into psychotherapy more open to its possible benefits are usually those who see the most benefits

According to the American Psychological association, reviews of studies on psychotherapy show 75% of patients finding the therapy somewhat beneficial. Brain imaging has been used to show the physical improvements of patients with mental illness before and after psychotherapy by comparing it to patients whose mental health improved due to medication. As with most things in life, those who go into psychotherapy more open to its possible benefits are usually those who see the most benefits.

For those struggling with their mental health, psychotherapy can provide relief. It is certainly not a guarantee of perfect mental health but is a stepping stone to help individuals to alter the way they think with the help of a trained professional.

Josephine Hatton

Featured image courtesy of Marco Bianchetti via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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