Talk therapy has many names, including psychotherapy, counseling, and therapy. It is a communication-based method for assessing, diagnosing and treating problems related to emotions, thinking and behavior patterns.
Talk therapy involves at least one patient or client and a mental health professional trained in talk therapy. Sometimes there are multiple patients or clients in a talk therapy setting for couples therapy, family therapy, or group therapy.
There are also different types or methods of talk therapy that can be used alone or with medications to treat medical conditions.
Talk therapy is used to treat most mental health issues and can be helpful in other areas as well.
The benefits of talk therapy can be applied to relationship challenges, transitions or adapting to new lifestyles, managing a physical illness, or any situation involving a person in distress.
Additionally, many people who had traumatic childhoods or faced traumatic life events find relief and support in ongoing talk therapy.
Conditions treated with talk therapy
The most common conditions treated with talk therapy include:
The specific process of talk therapy may vary depending on the psychologist or other healthcare professional and the specific type of therapy. Talk therapy can take place in an office, hospital, treatment center, or remotely with telehealth options such as video appointments or audio-only calls.
The process can start with sharing basic information by filling out paper or paper forms, talking about it, or both.
In addition to speaking, the therapy provider may teach coping techniques or strategies to help in specific areas. There may also be things to work on between sessions, such as journaling, noticing thoughts and responses, or practicing coping skills.
Who does talk therapy?
Talk therapy is used to treat a wide variety of mental health issues, as well as to help with physical health challenges. However, anyone can undergo talk therapy to gain support in the face of challenges. It does not require a mental health issue or medical diagnosis.
Talk therapy is provided by a mental health professional trained in talk therapy. Some examples include psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and social workers. These professionals may specialize in specific conditions or groups of people, or they may have specialized training in specific types of talk therapy.
The different types of talk therapy are similar in that they involve a conversation between a talk therapy professional and a patient or client. They differ, however, in that the details of the conversations will focus on different areas.
Many professionals are trained in more than one type of talk therapy and will use different techniques or a combination of techniques.
Cognitive or behavioral therapy
Cognitive therapy is a type of talk therapy that works by identifying thought patterns that are incorrect and replacing them with alternative, more specific thought patterns.
With this type of therapy, the conversation can include a discussion of patterns to identify the impact of certain thoughts on symptoms and other outcomes, and then how to modify those thoughts to alter the results.
Behavior therapy is a type of talk therapy that works by identifying behaviors that contribute to symptoms or are ineffective, and then using techniques to correct those behaviors.
With this type of therapy, the conversation can include a discussion of role models that can identify the impact of certain behaviors on symptoms and other outcomes, and then how to modify those behaviors to change outcomes.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy that combines both cognitive therapy and behavior therapy. It works by addressing the relationships between thoughts, behaviors and feelings or emotions.
With this type of therapy, the conversation can include a discussion of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the client or patient, and the impact of these three elements on others. For example, they can have a thought about a situation, have a feeling in response to that thought, and then act on that feeling, which impacts their thoughts.
Psychodynamic therapy, also called dynamic psychotherapy, is a type of talk therapy that attacks unconscious forces, such as motivation and drive.
This method focuses on self-awareness to change habits and treat mental health issues. It involves working with a professional to increase awareness of unconscious thoughts.
With this type of therapy, the conversation can include talking about whatever comes to the mind of the patient or client and then discussing patterns that can be seen in those thoughts.
Humanistic therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on growing from the present moment instead of focusing on the past. A main idea of this method is that personal responsibility can lead to change and development. This approach considers the whole person from his point of view.
With this type of therapy, the conversation can include current thoughts and feelings rather than past situations, the uniqueness of the individual and move forward from that awareness.
Integrative therapy, also known as integration psychotherapy, is a type of talk therapy that combines several therapy methods in order to meet the individual needs of the patient or client. This means that techniques from humanistic therapy and behavior therapy can be combined, for example. Professionals trained in several types of talk therapy often take this approach.
With this type of therapy, the conversation can include any combination of cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and humanistic therapy techniques.
How to prepare
Talking to a primary care doctor or other healthcare professional is often the first step in starting talk therapy. Depending on insurance plans, a referral from a primary care provider is sometimes required for speech therapy insurance coverage. Alternatively, the fees can be paid out of pocket.
Some talk therapy professionals may require forms to be filled out before the first visit, so it’s a good idea to ask when making an appointment or to arrive early.
It may be helpful to bring notes of concerns or questions to the first session, although this is not required. If the appointment is online, it is helpful to prepare in advance for any required technology, such as internet and video conferencing.
The specific results of talk therapy depend on the person, the reason for the talk therapy, and the goals of treatment. For example, a person with anxiety may try talking therapy to reduce symptoms and be able to better deal with situations where they are generally anxious.
Some people worry that talk therapy won’t help them. However, talk therapy has been shown to be effective in research, even in people who don’t respond well to medication.
There aren’t many risks with talking therapy. Along with effectiveness, this is one of the reasons it is often preferred over drugs by health care providers and patients.
However, it can be emotional, uncomfortable, or tiring to discuss certain topics during talk therapy sessions. This uncomfortable or tired feeling can also last a little bit after the session.
A word from Verywell
Talk therapy is a recommended treatment for many mental health problems, and it can also be helpful for people without a mental health diagnosis.
Contact a healthcare professional if you think you might benefit from talk therapy because of a mental health issue, relationship issue, life transition, or feeling of distress for for whatever reason. Your doctor or other healthcare professional can help you decide if talk therapy is right for you.