What is Psychotherapy? It is an evolving field with many interpretations. It has been called “the most important variable in the treatment of psychological disorders.” A psychologist who has trained in several areas of psychology offers a variety of psychotherapy techniques and philosophies. They are interested in understanding the human mind, the process of change, and the definition of happiness. Psychotherapy can also be broadly defined as a process of interaction and management of the distress, anxiety, fear, anger, or stress that accompanies any experience.
The word psychotherapy derives from the Greek word psyche meaning mind and logos meaning goal. Psychotherapy evolved out of the works of Sigmund Freud (who was also a trained therapist) in the 1920s. In the introduction to his book Erika and Albert, Freud says that he is convinced, “A disease lies dormant in the psyche, and until it becomes active, our life goes on smoothly and pleasantly. But when it becomes active, either because of mental or physical exhaustion, our life collapses”. In essence, psychotherapy is a comprehensive and intentional involvement between patient and therapist for the development, clarification, or realization of emotional, physiological, behavioral, or mental problems, or even of chronic suffering.
There are three main categories of approaches to psychotherapy, each grounded in different understandings of the nature of the human psyche. These are phenomenological, cognitive-behavioral, and cognitive restructuring. Each has different ways of obtaining psychotherapy objectives and psychotherapy practice. Below is an explanation of each of these paradigms.
Freud’s Approach to Psychotherapy. According to this approach, psychotherapy should be a systematic way of studying how various human behaviors produce different results in individuals. The theories of Sigmund Freud hold that anxiety, distress, and other psychological symptoms arise from the repressed contents of a person’s unconscious mind. The subconscious mind seeks to justify these repressed contents, which leads to a variety of different behaviors.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This form of therapy was introduced by the American psychiatrist and psychologist William Livingstone. This approach focuses on addressing a person’s cognition (thought patterns) regarding a particular issue and then confronting them directly, often using various confrontational techniques such as eye-contact and shouting. While this style of therapy has been widely used in conjunction with psychotherapy, it has also been used successfully in a number of other mental health conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Cognitive Therapy. Another approach to psychotherapy includes the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy involves identifying the cognitive and emotional factors that contribute to the emergence of a given psychological problem. By doing so, a therapist can help the patient to identify his or her thought processes that are contributing to the emotional difficulty and to learn new ways of thinking that help resolves the problem. CBT often involves the use of various forms of exposure, which allow the patient to confront his or her anxiety more directly and reduce the possibility of experiencing a traumatic response or anxiety disorder.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. This therapy focuses on the importance of finding the reason behind an individual’s distress and actively working towards addressing those factors. Many psychologists and psychotherapists who apply this theory believe that all human beings possess an inherent need to understand their surroundings. In fact, they believe that our understanding is a powerful force that shapes our behavior. In this sense, psychodynamic psychotherapy can be considered a developmental process, since it attempts to help the patient discover the purpose of his or her life, as well as helping him or she develop strategies for dealing with issues related to the past. This form of psychotherapy often requires the assistance of a qualified therapist or counselor, who will assist the patient in identifying and describing the sources of his or her problems and in assisting him or her in resolving them.
Although these three main theories share some common themes, each of them is somewhat unique and there may be further types of psychotherapy that fit your particular situation better. In general, however, these three psychotherapy approaches can be regarded as methods of discovering the present moment, mindfulness, and reflection, which offer enormous potential for transforming our experience of the world around us. Indeed, by adopting or adapting one or more of these approaches, you may find that the quality of your psychotherapy improves dramatically.