What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a group of therapies designed to help someone change their thinking patterns and improve their coping skills.
These therapies are often used to treat mental health conditions, but can also be useful for anyone wanting to change unhelpful thoughts or behaviour.
Psychotherapy is provided by a psychologist, counsellor, psychiatrist or support person. It is sometimes called psychological therapy or talking therapy.
When would I need psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy can be used to treat:
- bipolar disorder
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- borderline personality disorder or dependent personality disorder
- panic disorder
- addictions (including alcoholism, drug dependence and gambling addiction)
- eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia
Often, people with such conditions are also advised to use medications.
Not everyone who has psychotherapy will have a mental health condition. These therapies can also be helpful to learn how to deal with stressful and challenging situations using healthy coping skills.
What are the types of psychotherapy?
- Cognitive behaviour therapy — looks at the link between a person’s thoughts, feelings and actions, and how each may affect their perception and wellbeing.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — a type of CBT that integrates mindfulness.
- Dialectical behaviour therapy — teaches positive behavioural skills to manage stress, emotions and develop positive relationships. It is a type of CBT.
- Interpersonal therapy — helps a person deal more effectively with people and situations they find difficult.
- Supportive psychotherapy —a talking-based therapy designed to allow a person with mental health issues to voice their concerns, and receive encouragement and help in finding practical solutions.
- Family therapy — aims to improve relationships within a family, and the family function as a whole. Therapy sessions are conducted with family members.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy — helps a person accept stressful events, such as experiencing psychotic symptoms, and commit to develop positive attitudes towards them and focus on the present moment.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy — increases awareness of how distressing thoughts and feelings came to be.
Your therapist may combine exercises or practices from different types of psychotherapy to tailor a therapy for you.
What are the benefits of psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy aims to help people with mental health issues discover their own resilience.
Psychotherapy does not stop stressful events, but it gives you the power to cope in a healthy way. It can also help you understand yourself.
How can you get the most out of psychotherapy?
- Be honest with your therapist. You need to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences honestly.
- Be an active participant in the therapy. Therapy works best as a partnership: you need to do the work.
- Put in the time. If you have homework, make this part of your daily routine. It may be difficult in the beginning, but a new habit takes up to three months to feel routine.
- If it's not working, consider a different approach. Talk to your therapist about whether a different psychotherapy approach may be more beneficial for you.
How to find a psychotherapist?
See your doctor for a referral. You may be eligible for a mental health treatment plan.
The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia and Good Therapy Australia have search tools to find local psychotherapists, and the methods they specialise in.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency helps you check whether psychologists and psychiatrists are registered.
You can access some psychotherapies online.
When choosing a therapist, think about what you want to achieve and what type of psychotherapy may benefit you.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2021