Psychotherapy is basically having a useful conversation with another human being.
For some simple problems, or to help ground yourself at difficult moments, talking to a friend or relative may be just as useful as talking to a psychotherapist, and of course, much cheaper. The advantage of talking to a psychotherapist is for times when the problems are more complex; or you are seeking to look at and deal with deeper, underlying issues; or when your friends or relatives have opinions about what they think you should do and express them in such a way as to make it more difficult for you to discover what your own opinions on the matter are; or when for whatever reason you do not want to or cannot talk to either a friend or relative.
If you decide that you wish to engage the help of a professional psychotherapist, then in our opinion getting a good ‘person to person’ fit between you and your therapist is the most important thing. In most cases, the type of psychotherapy that particular psychotherapist practices is of secondary importance.
Having said that though, there are a large number of different psychotherapists potentially available out there, so the way that most people begin to narrow the search for someone is to do one of two things:
- either ask someone you know who has had psychotherapy for a recommendation, or
- decide what type of psychotherapy may be right for you and then seek a psychotherapist trained in that type of therapy.
Asking a friend for a recommendation can be a good method, provided your friend had a good experience, and that your friend checked out the therapist well beforehand. On the other hand, it could be similar to just taking a random shot in the dark. If you know lots of people who have had therapy and ask each of them for recommendations, then if one or two names keep getting mentioned, then that is probably a good sign. Good psychotherapists tend to get good reputations, although also bear in mind that few psychotherapists do well with everybody they see. After all, we are talking about you forming a relationship with another human being and there is no such thing as “one human being fits all”.
To begin deciding what type of psychotherapy may be right for you, go to our different types of psychotherapy page.
There are some good web based information sites about psychotherapy.
We recommend the BBC sites:
and the MIND site:
Please consider whether your local National Health Service can offer you psychological treatment. Ask your General Practitioner if it is possible for you to have an assessment with an NHS professional.
What is the difference between psychotherapy and counselling?
There is not a completely clear line to be drawn between some forms of non-intensive psychotherapy and counselling. Counselling tends to focus more on immediate external difficulties and on helping with problem-solving skills. Sessions are once weekly or less, and the work is often short-term. Most counsellors will have had a shorter less intensive training than most psychotherapists and are likely to have had less (sometimes no) personal therapy as part of their training and professional development. Different counsellors are trained in different ways of working, such as ‘humanistic’ or ‘psychodynamic’ and are often ‘person-centred’.
What happens during psychotherapy?
Usually sessions take place at the same place and often at the same time every week or sometimes every fortnight. Some therapies space the sessions out to allow for homework, or set a fixed number of sessions from the start. Typically individual therapy sessions last for 50 or 60 minutes, group therapy for 90 minutes and couple therapy for an hour. In individual therapy the client / patient and the therapist usually sit in chairs, although in more intensive psychoanalysis the patient may be invited to use a couch or a chaise longue.
What is shared in the sessions is confidential unless there are clear issues of risk.
What is the evidence base for psychotherapy?
The psychotherapies have been extensively researched and studied. Because the outcomes have to be appreciated over time, long term follow-up studies are the most appropriate sources of information. However, such studies are the hardest to do, simple end of therapy measures are much easier. If you would like to read further, before we have compiled the pages on research evidence onto the web-site, the following books will get you started:
What Works for Whom? A Critical Review of Psychotherapy Researchby Anthony Roth and Peter Fonagy (2004) Guilford Press
Essential Research Findings in Counselling and Psychotherapy: The Facts are Friendly by Michael Cooper (2008) Sage Publications