Psychotherapy is a group of therapies provided by a psychologist, counsellor or psychiatrist. Psychotherapy, also known as or psychological therapies or talk therapies, explores your feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are distressing you and to work towards changing these. It can be used by people with mental health conditions, and it can also be used by people who want to understand themselves better.
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
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.
Often, people with such conditions are also advised to use medications.
Common 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 your stress, emotions and develop positive relationships. It is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy.
- Interpersonal therapy — helps you deal more effectively with people and situations you find difficult.
- Supportive psychotherapy — identifies stressful events that affect your mental health and helps you create healthy decisions with encouragement from your therapist.
- Family therapy — aims to improve your relationship with your family, and the family function as a whole. Therapy sessions are conducted with family members.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy — helps you 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 your awareness of how distressing thoughts and feelings came to be.
What are the benefits of psychotherapy?
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 care 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.
When choosing a therapist, think about what you want to achieve and what type of psychotherapy may benefit you.
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Last reviewed: September 2019