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Facts to Know:
- Psychotherapy describes collaborative, talk-based treatments between a licensed mental health professional and an individual seeking help for difficulties related to mood, well-being, and/or functioning.
- Most people (approximately 75%) who engage in psychotherapy experience relief in their symptoms and a corresponding improvement in their relationships, work, and quality of life.
- Psychotherapy may be used in combination with medications or other treatments, or it may be provided independent of other interventions.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves the application of scientifically validated techniques to address psychological distress and a variety of mental health conditions in children and adults. Psychotherapy commonly takes place in a one on one weekly meeting with a trained professional (a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker), though the frequency of meetings can vary. It can also be provided to couples, families, or groups.
Psychotherapy is rooted in a collaborative, professional relationship between a patient and therapist. Both parties are active partners in the treatment, and mutually agree upon and commit to specific goals. Based on the nature of the problems being discussed and the training of the therapist, treatments and techniques used during therapy may differ. Trust and comfort between the patient and therapist are key to making progress in treatment, but these elements must be accompanied by objectivity and confidentiality, which are essential to creating a safe space that helps patients share their personal thoughts and feelings.
What does psychotherapy treat?
Psychotherapy is an evidence-based treatment for several conditions, including::
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders
- personality disorders
- substance use disorders/addiction
At the same time, psychotherapy can help people deal with a wide variety of issues in school, relationships, work, and other parts of their life. Common reasons for seeking therapy include:
- difficulty coping (trouble in school, a relationship, or on the job)
- adjusting to life changes or stress (marriage, loss of a loved one, or going to college)
- experiencing a traumatic event (violence, natural disaster)
- issues related to identity (cultural, sexual, gender, or religious identity)
- changes in physical health (pregnancy, menopause, cancer diagnosis)
- unexplained symptoms (lacking motivation, sleep problems)
How does psychotherapy work?
Psychotherapy should lead to a relief from a patient’s symptoms as well as an improved quality of life. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotional health, reduce stress, and improve mood. After psychotherapy, research shows that changes in the brain occur which mimic the changes resulting from medications. As with any lifestyle change, psychotherapy works by promoting healthy coping and self-care strategies, increased self-awareness and monitoring of behavior, and new ways of thinking and behaving that lead to meaningful life and relationship changes.
Types of Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy treatment can be short-term or long-term, depending on the goals of the patient and the type of therapy being practiced. For example, a patient may be interested in addressing immediate issues during a few sessions, or they may work with a therapist for months or years to address more complex, persistent issues. Traditional frameworks include weekly 45-minute sessions, but the length and frequency of sessions may vary depending on the type of therapy and the individual client’s needs.
The type of therapy selected depends on a patient’s goals and their preferences for treatment, as well as the therapist’s training and their professional recommendation as to what type of therapy is most appropriate. Columbia offers specific forms of evidence-based therapy and treatments, meaning that their effectiveness in treating specific mental disorders has been proven by extensive research. In practice, many therapists integrate elements of various therapies or tailor treatment to the individual.
Common therapies offered at Columbia are:
CBT is an evidence-based treatment that helps people to identify problematic patterns in their thinking and behavior, with emphasis on problem-solving and skill development. CBT often emphasizes practical solutions for immediate concerns. As such, treatment is generally agreed to over a set length of time (e.g., 14-20 sessions) and involves objective assessment of goals and practice exercises in-between sessions.
DBT is a skills-based, specialized form of therapy that targets difficulties with emotion regulation. It is a highly researched, evidenced-based treatment that helps to reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors, specifically for people with borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and PTSD.
Psychodynamic therapy is a more exploratory therapy that involves understanding the past as it relates to the present. Discussion of childhood experiences can help bring unconscious thoughts and behaviors into awareness. This improves insight, functionality, and can help change long-standing patterns and dynamics in a patient’s relationships.
Mindfulness refers to being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the present moment, and accepting them without judgment and with compassion. Therapies of this type (e.g., Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Mindfulness-based stress reduction, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) bring mindfulness techniques to enhance traditional psychotherapy. The application of these therapies for depression, anxiety, stress, and physical health conditions are supported by research.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
IPT is a short-term, evidence-based treatment pioneered by a Columbia psychologist. It helps people understand the interplay of mood and relationships to underlying interpersonal issues, such as adjustment difficulties in social or professional roles, complicated grief, and problems relating to others.
Psychoanalysis involves exploration of long-standing problematic patterns of relating to others which can negatively impact self-esteem, relationships, mood regulation, ability to succeed and engage in fulfilling work, and/or making life decisions. Because these problematic patterns are longstanding and at times even lifelong, this type of therapy is a more intensive, longer-term treatment. Psychoanalysis typically involves meeting 3-5 times weekly for 3-8 years, often using the psychoanalytic couch rather than face-to-face meetings.
How can I receive psychotherapy at Columbia?
Here at ColumbiaDoctors, all of our services incorporate psychotherapy into their work. Our expert clinicians provide individual, couples, family, and group psychotherapy that is based on the latest research and uniquely tailored to patient goals. All of our locations provide individual psychotherapy as part of our general psychiatry and psychology services.
Search our providers for a therapist or psychiatrist with expertise in psychotherapy.
To make an appointment, please call 212-305-6001 or submit our online form.