What does a psychotherapist do?

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What is a Psychotherapist?

Psychotherapists are trained mental health professionals who specialize in psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy — essentially, dialogue between patient and therapist. They use psychological methods, instead of medication, to help patients overcome mental and emotional issues and deal with their problematic beliefs, thoughts, behaviors, or compulsions.

By observing and talking to patients, psychotherapists are able to understand their problems, analyze and assess their emotional state, develop suitable treatment methods, and record their progress.

What does a Psychotherapist do?

A psychotherapist talking to his client.

Psychotherapists use certain styles of talk therapy when treating specific conditions. Their approaches are taken from the five broad categories of psychotherapy, as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA):

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies are central to the approach that focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. Psychoanalytically oriented therapies are characterized by a close working partnership between therapist and patient. Patients learn about themselves by exploring their interactions in the therapeutic relationship. While psychoanalysis is closely identified with Sigmund Freud, it has been extended and modified since his early formulations. Psychodynamic therapy is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.

Behavioral therapy focuses on learning’s role in developing both normal and abnormal behaviors. The goal of behavioral therapy is to reduce or eliminate self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors by addressing them and also by reinforcing desirable behaviors. One variation of behavioral therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on both thoughts and behaviors. CBT is often used to treat anxiety disorders and depression.

Cognitive therapy emphasizes what people think rather than what they do. When a psychotherapist takes this approach, they believe that it is dysfunctional thinking that is leading to their patient’s dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. The premise of cognitive therapy is that by changing their thoughts, people can change how they feel and what they do.

Humanistic therapy emphasizes people’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. Concern and respect for others are also important themes within this approach. Three types of humanistic therapy are especially influential:

Client-centered therapy rejects the idea of therapists as authorities on their clients’ inner experiences. Instead, therapists help clients change by emphasizing their concern, care, and interest.

Gestalt therapy emphasizes what it calls ‘organismic holism’ – the importance of being aware of the here and now and accepting responsibility for yourself.

Existential therapy focuses on free will, self-determination, and the search for meaning.

Integrative or holistic therapy combines elements from different theories. Therapists who use an integrative style don’t tie themselves to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different theories and approaches and tailor their treatment according to each client’s needs.

In addition to understanding and effectively applying the therapies described above in one-on-one sessions, the job portfolio of a psychotherapist typically includes:

  • Facilitating group therapy sessions for clients with similar challenges
  • Conducting therapy sessions for couples with marital problems
  • Accurately maintaining patient data and keeping the information confidential and safe
  • Understanding social, cultural, and ethical issues that may affect clients
  • Understanding research as applied to clinical practice
  • Measuring the efficacy of their therapeutic approach
  • Writing professional correspondence and case reports consistent with the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines
  • Being consistently aware of the impact of their own personality, insights, and judgment on the therapeutic relationship and the efficacy of treatment
  • Attending conferences to stay up to date on evolving topics and issues

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What is the workplace of a Psychotherapist like?

Psychotherapists often have a private practice. They may also work in hospitals, schools, prisons, mental health clinics, and other healthcare facilities.

Regardless of the clinical setting in which they practise, all psychotherapists spend the majority of their time observing and interacting with their patients.

Psychotherapists are also known as:
Mental Health Counselor Disorders Analyst