How Does Talk Therapy Work, and How Can It Help My Everyday Mental Health?

Talk therapy

What actually is talk therapy? Well, it actually refers to a range of different psychotherapies, and focuses on resolving emotional distress, overcoming barriers to increased wellbeing and achieving personal development through verbal communication and support.

“Talk therapy can be used for many different types of concerns, ranging from general stress, big life adjustments, relationship issues, as well as clinical presentations of conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma-related presentations and personality disorders,” explains Veronica West, a psychologist at digital mental health platform Lysn.

West explains that on your first appointment for talk therapy, you can expect that your mental health professional will go through a range of questions to get a full history of your current concerns, previous experiences, and medical and social history.

From there, they’ll work with you to set some goals and a treatment plan that’ll often focus on one or several branches of talk therapy. Generally, each appointment will last for roughly 45 minutes to an hour, and you’ll have them weekly to monthly, depending on your needs, goals and finances.

As for if you need to understand the different kinds of talk therapy, West says definitely not.

“The mental health professional you engage with will make sure they complete a thorough initial assessment with you at your first appointment,” she says. “From there, they’ll discuss with you what therapy framework may be suitable, and what this will look like in coming sessions.”

With all that said, if you are interested in starting talk therapy and are curious about how they each work, or you’ve already started your therapy journey and are wondering more about it works (you can read about my own therapy journey here), read on for a breakdown on some of the main types of it.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy was developed based on the concept that how we think about situations can affect the way we feel and behave. As such, it has a large focus around assisting the client in becoming more aware of the situations and thoughts that arise in their day-to-day, and the way this affects how someone feels and the actions they take based on this, explains West.

“CBT provides the therapist and client with a framework for better understanding triggering situations, unhelpful thoughts, and behaviours, and helps the client build skills to change these when identified as negative or unhelpful to the client,” she says.

“When undertaking CBT, your therapist will collaborate with you to set clear treatment goals, complete regular check-ins, and invite you to be an active partner in setting the focus for each session, as well as introduce coping skills for dealing with different problems in your life.”

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioural therapy is one of the more structured approaches to talk therapy. DBT was originally developed from a similar framework as CBT, however, is often utilised for individuals who experience emotions in a very intense form, says West.

“In addition to focusing on helping the client identify and change their thought and behavioural patterns, it also addresses skills which are aimed at helping the individual to better tolerate distress, regulate their emotions in a healthy way and build communication skills,” she says.

“DBT can certainly be used in individual therapy, however, it is not uncommon for DBT therapy to be accessed in a group therapy format as well.”

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is generally less structured in nature than for example CBT and DBT, and focuses less on specific strategies and skills, West explains.

“Instead, psychodynamic therapy is designed to assist the client, in conversation with the therapist, in identifying patterns in their behaviours and relationships, to better understand their emotions, and to improve relationships with important individuals in their lives.”

Humanistic Therapy

“Humanistic therapy is slightly different from other traditional talk therapies in the way that it focuses less on specific diagnoses, symptoms and history, and aims to support the person to improve as a whole through allowing the client to guide the topics and set the focus for the conversation,” says West.

Humanistic therapy is built on the concept that the client is the expert on their life and experiences and aims to gently support change in relevant areas through conversation and unconditional acceptance, she says.

As such, the therapist will often look to take a less leading role in therapy and encourage the client to guide the direction of therapy. Humanistic therapy has three main subcategories and as such may also be known as gestalt therapy, client-centred therapy, or existential therapy.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Finally, there’s Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is loved and used by many mental health professionals in Australia and around the world.

“ACT is generally focused on actions and taking active steps in your life to move away from avoidance and to learn to better tune in to and accept your emotions without holding on to them,” says West.

“Similarly to other therapies mentioned, ACT focuses a lot on building skills through practicing mindfulness. This allows the individual to be aware of and understanding of their own and others’ emotions and experiences, while doing so with psychological flexibility in mind. This incorporates emotional openness and the ability to adapt your thoughts and behaviours to better align with your values and goals.”

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