What is psychotherapy, when is it used?

Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan, (reference was made of Mayo Clinic’s related article)

Psychotherapy is a general term given to addressing mental health concerns by talking to a professional mental health provider. During psychotherapy the person gets the opportunity to find out about his or her own psychological condition, moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Through psychotherapy the person will find out that he can have control over his own life and deal with changing conditions in a healthy manner.

There are many specific types of psychotherapy, and each psychotherapy school has its own approach. The type of psychotherapy that is to be used, is decided on the basis of the patient’s/applicant’s specific situation and the sources that are available to the centre that provides the service. Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy, counselling, psychosocial approach or therapy.

Psychotherapy can be useful in treating many psychological problems.

For example:

• Anxiety disorders, like obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder.
• Mood disorders, like depression
• Addictions, like alcoholism, substance dependency, addiction to gambling.
• Eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia.
• Personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder, Narcissistic personality disorder.

Psychotherapy is a method not only used in treating disorders but also in dealing with various challenges and failures in life.

For example:

• to resolve conflicts between partners in a marriage,
• to reduce anxiety and stress in work and school environments,
• to cope with major life changes such as divorce, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job,
• to learn to manage irritability or passive-aggressive behaviour,
• to come to terms with a chronic or serious physical health problem such as diabetes, cancer or chronic pain,
• to recover from a physical trauma or sexual abuse,
• to cope with sexual problems regardless of whether they are due to a physical or psychological cause,
• to overcome certain sleep problems.

In some cases psychotherapy can be almost as effective as treatment with medication. However, depending on the person’s specific situation, if psychotherapy alone is not considered to be enough, it is used in addition to physical treatment. Psychotherapy in general is a risk-free method. However, because of the close examination of painful feelings or life experiences during psychotherapy you may from time to time feel distressed. In exposure therapy you have to face certain situations which you have so far been avoiding, like getting on a plane when you are actually afraid of flying. It is normal that you feel temporary anxiety in such a situation, but with the help of the coping mechanisms you will learn and develop ways to manage your negative fears and emotions.

Before starting psychotherapy you should find out if the therapist is a specialist in this field.

Before consulting a psychotherapist you should inform yourself of the psychotherapist’s past education and experience. Psychotherapy is a general term which is not represented by a professional title or a diploma. Trained psychotherapists are either psychiatry specialists or clinical psychologists. Psychiatry specialists are medical doctors who, after finishing their medical education, whilst specialising in the field of psychiatry, undergo a long period of education on the treatment of psychological problems by means of medical treatment and psychotherapy. Only psychiatrists are authorised to diagnose and treat mental illness. In the case of clinical psychologists, after they receive their bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Faculty of Literature, and undergo a training in psychotherapy during their postgraduate education. Then they can practise psychotherapy but do not have the authorisation or skill to diagnose and treat mental illness. It is the psychiatrist’s task to decide which patient/applicant should undergo psychotherapy. If he decides that psychotherapy is indicated then he will either provide it himself or ask for the help of a clinical psychologist with whom he is working together.

Types of Psychotherapy

There are a large number of effective psychotherapy techniques. Some of these are more successful in certain problems and disorders than others. In many cases the therapist can use more than one technique together.

The most common psychotherapy techniques are as follows:

• Cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps you to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviours and replace them with healthy, positive ones. This is the most common type of therapy. It is usually decided in advance what each session will involve.

• Interpersonal therapy, which focuses on your current relationship with your family, friends and colleagues and aims to improve your interpersonal skills.

• Dynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on your unconscious thoughts and behaviours and which, according to your own goals, aims at assisting you in developing new insights.

• Family therapy, which helps individuals to understand how family members interact with each other, how conflicts within the family can be resolved and how communication can be improved.

• Group therapy, which brings together a group of people who have similar psychological problems, and creates an environment of discussion and interaction led by a qualified counsellor.

• Marriage counselling, which gives partners the tools to communicate better, negotiate their natural differences, and resolve their problems in a constructive manner. It is also called couples therapy.

• Psychoanalysis, which guides you to examine memories, events and feelings from the past to understand your current feelings and behaviour.