Psychotherapy means that you talk with a professional about your problems and learn how to deal with them. There are different types of psychotherapy. You can receive psychotherapy on your own, with your family, or in a group; hence they are called individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and group therapy respectively. In group therapy, you take part in group sessions with people who have similar problems, most often through day programs.
Psychotherapy can be for a few sessions or may continue for long. Finally, therapists use different principles, approaches, and techniques. There has been debate about how much psychotherapies are effective. In general, psychotherapies are used when the problems are mild to moderate. For severe mental illnesses, they should be used along with medication. I will list a few common types of psychotherapy that have scientific evidence for their efficacy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most common form of psychotherapy these days. In CBT, you try to change the negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviour that make you depressed or anxious. You learn how to identify you negative thoughts, challenge them in your mind, and change you reaction to them. CBT is typically for 10 to 20 sessions. You catch up with a therapist every week or fortnight for 30 to 60 minutes. You typically need to do some homework between the sessions. CBT is commonly used for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD.
Schemas are the very core beliefs and emotions about the self and the world. We typically develop particular schemas while growing up. They are like filters through which we see ourselves and the world. The way that a person responds to schema is called coping style. For example, people who had been put down repeatedly while growing up may develop a schema that they are a “failure”, that they are stupid, and cannot achieve anything. Then, they may adopt a coping style of "perfectionism"; i.e. they stress themselves out to do the tasks perfectly well. It’s like that with every single task, they try to prove to themselves and others that they are not a failure. Unfortunately, this is nerve-wracking and will make them anxious all the time. Schema therapy is aimed at healing the warped schemas and replacing maladaptive coping styles with some adaptive behaviour. Schema therapy has been mostly used for personality disorders. It’s a long-term psychotherapy and typically continues for several months.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) assumes that the way people interact and communicate with others makes them depressed. In IPT, the therapist explores with you how you interact with important people in your lives. You will try to find your relationship problems and to make them right. Interpersonal therapy is typically for 12 to 20 sessions and is used for mild to moderate depression.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy:
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is originally developed for treatment of borderline personality disorder. The participants learn some practical skills to avoid self-harm, to control extreme emotional reactions and to manage relationship difficulties. The participants attend the skill-training classes every week. They also see their therapist individually to discuss how to use those skills for their specific problems. The course typically runs for 24 weeks.
Acceptance Commitment Therapy:
Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), in some ways, is a fusion of the eastern and western philosophies. The therapy teaches the participants how to unhook themselves from the negative thoughts and feelings. This is achieved by practicing a technique called mindfulness. ACT also encourages the participants to define and follow their inner values.
Graded Exposure Therapy:
Graded exposure therapy is also known as systematic desensitisation and is used for Phobia and PTSD. It is developed to help people control their fears. For example, if you have social anxiety, then you and your therapist work out which social situations make you most anxious and which ones are less anxiety-provoking. You will first learn how to cope with the least anxiety-provoking situations and then work your way up to keep yourself calm in the most intense situations. You will typically see a therapist for 6 to 8 sessions to complete the course.
EDMR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It’s used for treatment of PTSD. The main idea is that past traumatic experiences are so emotionally overwhelming that you cannot process them, and hence you cannot cope with them well. EDMR reduces the emotional distress associated with the past memories and changes how they are felt and perceived. Typically, the therapist asks you to think about the past memories while following their moving fingers with your eyes. You typically see the therapist weekly for about 10 to 15 sessions.
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy:
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) is developed to help people with bipolar disorder. The main idea is that you are more likely to experience mood swings if you have an erratic sleep, irregular meal times, and a variable activity-rest cycle. IPSRT is designed to help you understand how your daily activity, sleep cycle, and social interactions affect your mood. Then you will learn how to develop a healthy routine and how to reduce its disruption.
Arts therapy uses visual arts, drama, and dancing to improve your wellbeing. It can help you express your feelings and cope with stress. Arts therapy is not solely about arts, you also learn through interaction with the art therapist as well as the group members.
In family therapy, couples or family attend the therapy sessions. The aim is to assess relationship difficulties and to find “family solutions” rather than treating individuals separately. Family therapists provide counselling to the family, help in resolving conflict between couples, assist with parenting issues, and help the family work through difficult life events such as loss and trauma. To learn more, you can visit Relationships Australia or the Bouverie Centre.