Not many know what psychotherapy is and what it can do. Yet psychotherapy has the potential to result in positive, detectable changes in brain structure and function that make for better mental health . It is clear too that psychotherapy enhances our socio-emotional development which is necessary for us to thrive as individuals and as social creatures: due to a lack of a sense of safety, predictability, and responsiveness growing up, many of us may not have had the chance to actually learn to experience, express, and manage our emotions— and essentially grow up without support for emotional regulation .
Thankfully, psychotherapy can teach us how to regulate our emotions by getting us to verbally express our emotions and interpret them, and to logically reason through the thoughts that underlie those emotions (emotion and cognition come together to influence our behavior, learning, and decision-making)  . *For more information on emotions, read our guide to emotions.
Why it matters
Allow me to make yet another case for psychotherapy: Life can be challenging with the kinds of demands placed on us and roles we have to play, and even more so for people predisposed to developing mental health conditions. For these people, their lack of self-esteem puts them at risk  for all sorts of negative life outcomes such as depression, loneliness, addiction problems, dissatisfying friendships and romantic relationships and impaired academic and job performance, so much so that their quality of life deteriorates (and unfortunately, there is a significant relationship between having a poor quality of life and being at risk for suicide  ). Equally importantly, these people can be you and me at some point in our lives, depending on our risk factors for developing a mental health disorder……
What these people may need is a special kind of help we call psychotherapy (ta-da!) so that they can a) deal with their symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression with both more confidence and skill, which would inevitably give them a stronger sense of being in control of their life (one of the factors of psychological well-being according to Carol Ryff ), and b) function in their everyday roles as workers, students, and members of families and communities…
That’s how important psychotherapy is— it benefits not just individuals but society at large. When people are too dysregulated, burnout, anxious or depressed to do work and interact to get along with others, society as a whole cannot function.
And although not everyone will experience a mental health disorder, almost everyone will experience challenges to their psychological well-being, such as:
- a sense of personal inadequacy or stagnation
- a lack of a sense of purpose, meaning or direction
- challenges building and maintaining trusting and satisfying relationships with other people
- a sense of not being able to affect one’s environment
- the pressure to succumb to others’ standards when evaluating ourselves.
All of these challenges are threats to our psychological well-being — all reasons to choose psychotherapy too.
What psychotherapy’s about
But what is psychotherapy? Psychotherapy, in fact, is talk therapy: the counselor/ clinical psychologist/psychiatrist engages in a dialogue with the client about the client’s problems and how to fix them (APA, 2020); it’s a process of engagement between two people—a collaborative process that involves both the therapist and the client in co-constructing solutions to concerns (Corey, 2012).
Throughout this collaborative process, the therapist focuses on utilizing various theories of psychotherapy to guide them in understanding their clients & what they’re going through and in developing treatment plans to whatever ails them. Sometimes, these theories are called approaches. Therapists such as counselors, clinical psychologists, and certain psychiatrists use psychological and counseling theories and approaches in a structured manner based on their education, training, work experience, and personal preferences; and most therapists use more than one approach, tailoring their use of the approach to each client’s individual personality and the concerns presented by each client.
Many specific approaches exist within psychotherapy, yet the main approaches can be described as follows: psychodynamic (includes psychoanalysis), humanistic (includes Rogerian/ person-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy), cognitive (includes stress inoculation training, schema therapy), behavioral (such as conditioning, modeling, & systematic desensitization), cognitive-behavioral (includes CBT and REBT), postmodern  (solution-focused therapy, narrative therapy, reality therapy), and third-wave mindfulness (ACT, DBT, MBCT) approaches to therapy. As such, you’ll find that different therapists carry out therapy sessions differently, based on the combination of approaches they prefer.
Though what actually happens during psychotherapy, you wonder? What gets talked about in talk therapy, in other words? None other than what troubles the client. Issues brought up by clients can range from poor self-esteem, problems with managing stress and regulating emotions, relationship dissatisfaction, inability to cope with anxiety and depression, body image struggles, eating disorders, to challenges leading a healthy lifestyle that includes a work-life balance . More specifically, these issues are assessed in relation to the client’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, & beliefs, looking at how these can be understood, resolved, or coped with so that the client feels more calm and empowered in the face of daily struggles.
Thus, essentially, that’s what psychotherapy can do for you: improve your thoughts, feelings, & behaviors, enhance your relationship with yourself & others and transform your relationship to stress and anxiety, thereby helping you to derive more pleasure from every day and to live with ease — whatever you happen to be struggling with.
 The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy, Allan Schore (2012)
b) Corey, Gerald. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Cengage Learning Custom Publishing, 2012.
Written by :
Lifelong Learner and Mental Health Counselor
Alumni of Boston University, USA, and University of Malaya, Malaysia