What Is Talk Therapy?

Also known as psychotherapy, counseling, or therapy

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Talk therapy goes by multiple names, including psychotherapy, counseling, and therapy. It is a communication-based method to assess, diagnose, and treat concerns 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 alongside medications to treat medical conditions.

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Conditions Treated

Talk therapy is used to treat most mental health conditions, and can be helpful in other areas as well.

The benefits of talk therapy can be applied to relationship challenges, transitions or adjusting to new lifestyles, coping with a physical illness, or any situation that involves a person feeling distressed.

Additionally, many people who had traumatic childhoods or have faced traumatic life events find relief and support in ongoing talk therapy.

Conditions Treated With Talk Therapy

The conditions most commonly treated with talk therapy include:

Process

The specific process for 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 setting, at a hospital, in a treatment facility, or remotely with telehealth options such as video appointments or audio-only calls.

The process may begin with sharing background information by filling out paper or electric forms, talking about it, or both.

In addition to talking, the therapy provider may teach coping techniques or strategies to help in specific areas. There can also be things to work on between sessions, such as journaling, noticing thoughts and responses, or practicing coping techniques.

Who Does Talk Therapy?

Talk therapy is used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions, as well as to help with physical health challenges. However, anyone can go to talk therapy to get support through challenges. It does not require a mental health condition 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.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health challenges, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Types

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 multiple types of talk therapy and will use either 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 accurate thought patterns.

With this type of therapy, the conversation may include talking about patterns that can identify how certain thoughts impact symptoms and other outcomes, and then how to change those thoughts to change the outcomes.

Behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that works by identifying behaviors that are contributing to symptoms or are ineffective, and then using techniques to correct those behaviors.

With this type of therapy, the conversation may include talking about patterns that can identify how certain behaviors impact symptoms and other outcomes, and then how to change those behaviors to change the outcomes.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy that combines both cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. It works by addressing the relationships between thoughts, behaviors, and feelings or emotions.

With this type of therapy, the conversation may include talking about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the client or patient, and how those three elements impact the others. For example, they may have a thought about a situation, have a feeling in response to that thought, and then act on the feeling, which impacts their thoughts.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy, also called dynamic psychotherapy, is a type of talk therapy that addresses unconscious forces, such as motivation and drive.

This method focuses on gaining awareness of self to change patterns and treat mental health conditions. It involves working with a professional to increase awareness of unconscious thoughts.

With this type of therapy, the conversation may include talking about anything that comes to mind for the patient or client, and then discussing the patterns that can be seen in those thoughts.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on growth from the present moment instead of focusing on the past. A primary idea of this method is that personal responsibility can lead to change and development. This approach looks at the person as a whole from their point of view.

With this type of therapy, the conversation may include talking about current thoughts and feelings instead of past situations, the uniqueness of the individual, and moving forward from that awareness.

Integrative Therapy

Integrative therapy, also called psychotherapy integration, is a type of talk therapy that combines multiple methods of therapy in order to address the individual needs of the patient or client. This means that techniques from humanistic therapy and behavioral therapy may be combined, for example. Professionals trained in multiple types of talk therapy often take this approach.

With this type of therapy, the conversation may include any combination of cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and humanistic therapy techniques.

How to Prepare

Talking to a primary care physician or other healthcare professional is often the first step to starting talk therapy. Depending on insurance plans, sometimes a referral from a primary care provider is needed for talk therapy insurance coverage. Alternatively, fees may be paid out of pocket.

Some talk therapy professionals may require forms to be filled out before the first visit, so it is a good idea to ask when scheduling an appointment or to arrive early.

It can be helpful to bring notes of concerns or questions to the first session, though this is not required. If the appointment is online, it is helpful to prepare any required technology, such as internet and videoconferencing, ahead of time.

Outcomes

The specific outcomes of talk therapy depend on the person, the reason for talk therapy, and the goals of the treatment. For example, a person with anxiety may try talk therapy to reduce symptoms and be able to better handle situations where they typically experience anxiety.

Some people fear that talk therapy will not help them. However, talk therapy has been shown effective in research, even among people who do not respond well to medications.

Warnings

There is not much risk with talk therapy. Along with the effectiveness, this is one of the reasons it is often preferred over medications by both healthcare providers and patients.

However, it may feel emotional, uncomfortable, or tiring to discuss certain topics during talk therapy sessions. That uncomfortable or tired feeling may last a little while after the session too.

A Word From Verywell

Talk therapy is a recommended treatment for many mental health conditions, and it can be helpful to those without a mental health diagnosis as well.

Reach out to a healthcare professional if you feel you may benefit from talk therapy due to a possible mental health concern, relationship challenge, life transition, or feeling of distress for any reason. Your doctor or other healthcare professional can help you decide if talk therapy is a good option for you.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Mayo Clinic. Psychotherapy.

  3. Mental Health Foundation. Talk therapies. Updated September 21, 2021.

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  9. American Psychological Association. Humanistic therapy.

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