Psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as talk therapy, is a relationship in which the patient seeks professional help from a licensed provider to address difficult or troubling feelings, thoughts, attitudes and/or behaviors. In other words, the psychotherapist helps individuals make important changes in their lives. Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for a variety of psychological concerns. It can be a standalone treatment or combined with medications or other therapies. Your treatment team will work with you to determine which therapies offer you the best opportunity for improved health and well-being.

Why Use Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be helpful treatment for virtually all mental health problems and concerns, including:

  • Mood disorders (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Anxiety disorders (e.g., obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias)
  • Addictions (e.g., alcoholism, substance abuse disorder, compulsive gambling)
  • Personality disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder, dependent personality disorder)
  • Psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia)
  • Stress and adjustment disorders (e.g., PTSD, acute stress disorder)
  • Sexual and relationship problems

Psychotherapy can also benefit those who haven’t been diagnosed with a psychological disorder. A licensed therapist can help you work through stress and other conflicts that we all face throughout life, such as medical or chronic illness, major life changes, grief, sleep problems and other issues.

Types of psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a blend of cognitive (thought) and behavioral (action) therapy. It may benefit people diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety and OCD-related disorders.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program combines elements of cognitive therapy with meditative practices and attitudes based on the cultivation of mindfulness.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps people who have problems regulating feelings and tolerating stress
  • Metacognitive remediation therapy is a form of talk therapy to improve memory, attention and problem solving and improve participation in work and school for individuals with psychotic-spectrum disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
  • Family-focused therapy seeks to improve relationships, which may help improve treatment outcomes 

What to Expect During Psychotherapy

Your first psychotherapy session typically involves the therapist gathering basic information about you and your goals for therapy. You'll be asked to fill out forms about your medical history, social history and current and past emotional/mental health prior to your visit. The therapist will review this information with you in your first session.

In your first few sessions with your therapist, you’ll work together on a treatment plan to make sure you agree on treatment goals, what type of therapy best meets your needs and how long treatment will last.

Your therapist will likely expect you to complete “homework” assignments between sessions—for example, worksheets, readings or behaviors to try. Evidence shows that patients who do between-session work tend to have better therapy outcomes.

Frequency and Length of Psychotherapy Sessions

Psychotherapy sessions typically last between 45 and 60 minutes, and their frequency will be determined by your individual needs. Typically, early sessions take place weekly or every other week. As symptoms improve, sessions tend to be spaced out.

Psychotherapy Results

Many patients begin to feel better or at least become more aware of their thoughts or actions after three to five psychotherapy sessions. A typical course of CBT lasts 10 to 16 sessions, but everyone is different and has different needs.

You’ll get the most out of psychotherapy if you’re open and honest in sessions and treat therapy as a partnership, ensuring that you and your therapist set goals together and both understand the major issues to address. It’s OK if you’re not prepared right away to open up about your emotions. Bringing out certain feelings takes time. Many don’t feel entirely comfortable with the process at first, and if this is the case, you can work with your therapist to make changes that will help you get the most out of the experience.