Psychotherapy – A Guide

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A Psychotherapist treats you by using talking therapy, helps you understand and accept your strengths and weaknesses, as well as identifying what makes you feel upset, depressed or anxious.

What psychotherapy is used for
Availability of psychotherapy on the NHS

See also: Mental Health Disabilities and Issues and Counselling – A Guide


Psychotherapy is a type of talking therapy that can often prove useful in treating emotional problems and mental health conditions such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

What do psychotherapists do?

A psychotherapist is a mental health professional trained to listen sympathetically to someone’s problems.

As well as listening and discussing important issues with you, the psychotherapist can suggest strategies for resolving problems and, if necessary, help you to change your attitudes and behaviour.

Types of psychotherapy

Psychotherapy may be carried out on an individual basis, as part of a group, or with your husband, wife or partner.

There are a number of different types of psychotherapy including:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • person-centred psychotherapy
  • humanistic therapy
  • psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy
  • integrated therapy

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that retrains a person’s way of thinking to help them to deal with stressful situations.

Person-centred psychotherapy is a method that encourages you to be as open as possible and to face, and come to terms with, difficult memories, feelings and fears.

Humanistic therapy, such as Gestalt therapy, involves exploring problems through both talking and action. For example, the ‘empty chair’ technique is a way of allowing you to try out talking to an imaginary person who is sitting opposite you.

Psychoanalysis is a complex type of psychotherapy that was first developed by the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. A psychoanalytic therapist will encourage you to say exactly what you are thinking, and will try to identify hidden meanings or patterns in what you say that may be contributing to your problems.

An integrated therapy combines a number of different therapies into a single, integrated approach. For example, cognitive analytic psychotherapy (CAT) is an integrated therapy that uses methods from both CBT and psychoanalysis.

See the Useful links section for more information about different types of talking therapies, including counselling and CBT.

What psychotherapy is used for

One of the key objectives of a talking therapy, such as psychotherapy, is to help a person gain a better understanding of the issues that are troubling them.

Discussing how you feel about issues affecting your everyday life and personal relationships can help you gain a better understanding about what is making you feel the way you do.

The psychotherapist can help you work out new ways of approaching situations that you find difficult, as well as suggesting things you can do to cope with them better.

Sometimes a person can have psychological problems, such as unresolved issues or deep-rooted fears, that have built up over many years.

Developing a trusting relationship with your psychotherapist is paramount in order to address and resolve long-standing issues. This can take time and to be effective treatment sessions may need to last for several months or, in some cases, years.

Availability of psychotherapy on the NHS

Psychotherapy is available in some areas of the NHS by referral from your GP. Your GP may refer you to a psychology service, which may be based at your local hospital. However, you should be aware that there are often long waiting lists to see psychotherapists.

Some NHS hospitals have a psychiatry department, and there are also a few specialised NHS psychotherapy centres.

There is also the option of paying to see a private psychotherapist, or psychoanalyst. However, psychotherapy is currently an unregulated profession, so if you choose to see a private therapist, make sure that they are fully qualified and have received their training through a recognised professional organisation such as: