Many find talking therapies are a useful way of dealing with emotional, behavioural or other difficulties, and that they help them feel more able to deal with their past and present, as well as equipping them to cope with the future.
Talking therapies involve discussing issues that are bothering you in an open manner, with a trained professional who does not know you before the therapy begins. Sessions usually last between 50 minutes to an hour – though they can be shorter – and can be done face-to-face, on the phone or even online. Sometimes, therapy is done in a group, and it can also be useful for couples or families to attend therapy together.
Talking therapies can be as or more effective than medication, although some people find it useful to take medication at the same time as seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist.
Talking therapies can help with all manner of problems, and can be useful in helping to understand yourself better, even if you don’t have a specific issue you want to discuss.
Problems that therapy can help with include:
The terms counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist and psychiatrist can be a little confusing to someone unfamiliar with the field. Counsellor and psychotherapy, and counselling and psychotherapy are often used interchangeably, although some argue that psychotherapists usually have more training and are more equipped to deal with longer-term problems.
The training to become a counsellor or psychotherapist varies greatly, so it’s best to ask a potential counsellor or psychotherapist about their background if you want to know more.
A psychologist can either work in research, or what is called “applied psychology”, which involves the practical use of psychology to help others. There are many different types of applied psychology, such as educational, clinical, health and forensic, and some psychologists offer talking therapies as part of their role. The training to become a psychologist with a title (e.g. clinical psychologist, health psychologist etc) involves a degree in psychology as well as a Doctorate.
A psychiatrist has completed a medical degree, and then specialised in psychiatry. They may have also chosen to specialise further. Psychiatrists usually work with those with more severe mental health problems, and can prescribe medication.
Talking therapies come in many forms. Some people find they only need a few sessions before they feel their problem is resolved, others go to therapy for a set period of sessions, and others continue over a period of months or years.
While the type of therapy you choose is important, some studies suggest that the relationship between client and therapist is even more important than the theoretical approach of the counsellor or psychotherapist. This means that you shouldn’t disregard an entire strand or type of therapy because you did not find one therapist useful as it might be that you connect better with another therapist who works in the same field.
When beginning a talking therapy, it is very important that you are open to change and are willing to reflect on your emotions, thoughts and behaviour. Therapy can be very emotionally gruelling, so it is also important that you are prepared to put in the effort therapy requires, and do not give up when the therapy becomes difficult or uncomfortable for you. However, if you do feel that your therapy is not working for you, you may want to discuss this with your therapist, or considering trying a different type of therapy, or another counsellor or psychotherapist.
In general, cognitive therapies focus on identifying the thought patterns that are affecting you negatively, and trying to change these patterns. Behavioural therapies focus on identifying negative or harmful behaviours, and encouraging you to modify these behaviours.
Therapies in this category include:
As the name suggests, cognitive behavioural therapy combines cognitive and behavioural therapies to focus on both thoughts and behaviours. It is mostly used for treating anxiety and depression and it focuses on identifying negative thinking patterns that affect actions that are causing an individual difficulties, and then finding ways to change these thoughts, and therefore behaviours. This therapy is usually offered for a set period of sessions (the maximum being around 20) and is one of the most common types of therapy offered on the NHS.
Cognitive analytical therapy uses ideas from psychodynamic and cognitive theories. The first few sessions usually involve talking about a person’s current problems and past experiences, and then the therapist writes a letter summarising the problems the person is experiencing in their present, and relating these issues to their past experiences, often focusing on childhood or early life. Practical suggestions for how to work on these issues are also outlined in the letter and then all these issues are worked on in subsequent sessions. CAT is usually offered for a set period of sessions (between 4 and 24), although it can last longer if appropriate or necessary. This therapy is also offered on the NHS in some parts of the UK.
Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapies focus on a person’s unconscious thoughts, and how and why these thought patterns or perceptions developed through their early life and experiences.
Psychoanalysis is based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud, although another strand of psychoanalysis is Jungian therapy, based on the work on Carl Jung. Psychoanalysis includes techniques such as free association, where a person talks about whatever comes into their head. Psychoanalysis can be a very intense, and sometimes goes on for a long time.
These therapies also use psychoanalytical techniques, but focus more on how unconscious thoughts and perceptions developed in childhood affect the way a person acts in the present. This therapy is usually shorter than psychoanalysis.
Like humanism, humanistic therapies focus on a person as whole, and aim to help the person realise their potential, and often take responsibility for their thoughts and actions. Various therapies (including Gestalt therapy, psychosynthesis and Human Givens therapy) come under this umbrella term, and many of them encourage the individual to use their creativity to work through the problems they are experiencing.
Mindfulness is becoming aware of your own thoughts, feelings and body sensations, and living in the present moment. There are two types of mindfulness therapy:
Mindfulness-based stress reduction aims to help people cope with stress through a combination of meditation, yoga and body awareness.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy aims to prevent relapse in those who have previously experienced depression. It uses techniques from CBT combined with mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.
EMDR is usually used to help individual’s who have had distressing or traumatic past experiences, or experiences that they have not fully dealt with. EMDR can be a therapy in itself, or can be used as a technique to complement another type of therapy. The idea behind this therapy is that during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, i.e., when we dream, we are all able to make links between thoughts, images and objects very quickly. EMDR involves reliving past experiences while moving your eyes (in a very specific way, as directed by the therapist), with the aim to reprogram the way your brain processes this experience.
To find a counsellor or psychotherapist in your area, see this website. You can also ask your GP to refer you, although be aware that there may be a waiting list.