Therapy, often called psychotherapy or talk therapy, is a way to help people having difficulty managing emotions, behavior, and thinking to the extent that they are experiencing problems in social or occupational functioning. Over 500 different psychotherapies have been developed since Sigmund Freud published his works on psychoanalysis, and for someone seeking therapy, the process of identifying a well-trained, licensed practitioner may seem especially bewildering when distressed enough to seek professional help from a therapist!
Broadly speaking, most psychotherapies fall more-or-less into one of two camps.
- Interpersonal therapy, where patients learn to:
- identify their characteristic way of relating to significant others (and how come they developed these patterns that manifest when emotionally disconnected from those they care about most);
- Block expression of aspects of these patterns that pull aversive responses from others that the patient cannot account for;
- Mobilize their personal agency and heartfelt desire to change these patterns;
- Develop new patterns to relate to others in more rewarding and satisfying ways.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, where heighten awareness of patterns that stimulate or maintain anxiety, depression, or relational difficulties, such as:
- Catastrophizing (e.g., worst case scenario thinking, when the situation does not warrant it);
- Over-generalization (e.g., making overly broad, usually negative, conclusions about immediate experience);
- Over-personalization (e.g., taking things too personally);
- Black and white thinking (e.g., all-or-none, categorical assessments of immediate experience);
- Selective attention (e.g., to a single negative aspect of immediate experience);
- Misreading experience in ways that are inaccurate (e.g., “mindreading”) or situationally irrelevant;
- Striving for outcomes in any given interpersonal interaction that are unrealistic and unobtainable (e.g., wanting to change how another feels, behaves, or thinks).
For relationship difficulties, therapists using interpersonal therapy can help people:
- Understand their learned interpersonal behavior and perceptions that trigger, intensify, and maintain anxious or depressed states;
- Identify and better adapt to significant speed bumps along the highway of life, such as major illness, death in the family, job loss, divorce), etc.
- Understand why one consistently experience unexpected, unaccountable, or puzzling reactions from others that contribute to their anxiety or depression;
- Regain a sense of control, agency, self-efficacy, and pleasure in life;
- Identify what they need in relationships to be at their best, and how to maximize the probability of having those needs met;
- Realize their characteristic vulnerabilities, and develop ways to effectively cope and problem solve, when they’re not getting what they need to live life on their own terms.
For anxiety and mood difficulties, cognitive-behavioral therapy, where patients learn to heighten awareness of can help people who experience some combination of:
- Feeling persistent (and sometimes inexplicable) sadness, demoralization, helplessness, that just does not seem to go away;
- Losing interest in activities that usually bring pleasure;
- Indecisiveness, poor concentration and focus;
- Persistent and uncharacteristic irritability;
- Feeling worthlessness, excessive guilt, unusually persistent fatigue;
- Sleep onset insomnia or excessive sleepiness;
- Anxious apprehension, excessive caution, rumination that interferes with satisfactory living;
- Episodes of panic, characterized by some combination of excessive heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, choking sensations, chills/hot flashes, numbness or tingling in limbs, or gastrointestinal distress;
- Frantic attempts to avoid perceived abandonment by significant others;
- Intense and unstable relationships, characterized by impulsivity, feelings of emptiness, episodic moments of inappropriately expressed anger, and possibly a fragmented self-image.
And, both approaches, with a therapist who is a good fit for you, can help people maintain satisfying relationships with significant others, by learning how to address problematic interpersonal situations with a balanced perspective.