What is Psychotherapy?

Basically, this is the use of methods which are psychological in nature based on changing a person’s behavior and helping them overcome problems through personal interaction. This form of therapy has at its goal the following;

  • Improve relationships
  • Increase social functioning
  • Resolve or overcome troublesome behaviors, compulsions, emotions, thoughts or beliefs
  • Improve wellbeing and mental health

Psychotherapy is also used to treat some types of mental disorders either by themselves or combined with drug or medication therapies.

Today, there are over a thousand different variations of psychotherapy with some being minor changes while others are based on radically different concepts of psychology. They may use different techniques and emphasizes different ethics in their practice as well. Those who use psychotherapy may have backgrounds as mental health professionals or come from other areas of study. In addition, the use of these methods may be regulated in a legal or voluntary way. However, in some locations they may not be regulated at all.

Psychotherapy in the US

In order to practice and use psychotherapy treatments in the Us, therapists and counselors must be properly licensed by the state authorities and charge fees for their services. Those who practice without a license do so illegally which means that they cannot be billed by insurance companies.

In the US, the use of psychotherapy is overseen by the American Psychological Association which has enacted a list of ethical principles for those who are members. In addition, there is the American Board of Professional Psychology which conducts examinations and provides certification for psychologists who have demonstrated their competence in administering psychotherapy for their patients.

The History of Psychotherapy

In truth, psychotherapy in certain forms goes back many thousands of years with the earliest treatments being administered by those of religious, medical or even magical perspectives that came from philosophies from India, China and other Eastern influences. The Persian influence was certainly felt thousands of years ago as they brought these philosophies from the eastern parts of their empire to the west.

However, the modern history of psychotherapy does not really being in the West until the 18th century. Before this time, disorders of the mind were not well understood and whatever treatment was offers usually came in the form of punishment or confinement. It was not until moral treatment practices began in the 1700s did psychotherapy really begin to take hold. In this era, the use of group activities, moral encouragement and reasoning became important tools in helping those with mental issues.

This practice led to phrenology in the 19th century which was the study of the head and shape of the face to determine the presence of mental illnesses and irregularities. The treatments were often the use of magnets and spiritualism which have not survived well in the 20th century. However, there was an interesting mental healing technique as promoted by Phineas Quimby that used a concept similar to positive visualization. While these techniques and the study of phrenology have been abandoned, they did set the groundwork for the developing fields of neurology and psychiatry in the late 19th century. It was the use of moral therapy combined with the presence of Sigmund Freud who first developed his “talking cure” that allowed for the spread of psychiatry to begin which started in the US with by helping children who had learning disabilities.

Over the next half-century, psychiatrists developed the practices of what would become psychotherapy. What was first instituted by Sigmund Freud began to spread around the world, particularly after the Second World War with notable figures such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. They introduced new techniques which helped expand the field of psychodynamic therapy that Freud had essentially introduced back in the late 19th century.

Over the 20th century there have been a number of different movements in psychotherapy which started with behaviorism in the 1920s that include theories based on operant and classical conditioning along with social learning theory. By the 1950s however, two additional movements began that started to replace behaviorism, the existential humanistic and cognitivism theories. New theories that promoted more of a holistic change that was positive in nature started to engrain itself in the psychotherapy movement.

By the 1970s, other perspectives began to emerge and are now embraced by many in the field. Systems Therapy for example which uses group and family dynamics and Transpersonal psychology which is more focused on the spiritual aspect have made great strides during this particular decade which included a number of other movements such as the following;

  • Feminist
  • Expressive
  • Somatic
  • Positive

As communication around the world progressed, different theories came from Japan and India in particular that added to the field of psychotherapy. These practices added new elements to psychotherapy that included traditional metaphysical and ayurvedic systems that were incorporated into Western practices.

By the turn of the 1990s, the American Psychological Association started to organize and list different approved psychotherapy practices for different disorders. Culled from the Division 12 Task Force, these standards are based on essential criteria that have been heavily researched. Overall, the cognitive behavioral treatments for all types of psychological disorders have been promoted heavily over the years with passionate debate among clinical scientists and those who have practiced psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy Today

Today, psychotherapy is practiced around the world and continues to evolve thanks to different methods, research and trying new techniques that have produced a wide range of results. By addressing a number of different issues, psychotherapy has managed to crawl its way up from the practices of the early 19th century to reach the heights that it enjoys today.

As the research continues, there have been different theories that have surfaced and are being practiced to this day while others fall out of favor. However, the overall treatment through psychotherapy is still considered at the cutting edge of treating mental disorders through cures that involve talking to patients and discovering how to manipulate their thought processes so that real progress can be made.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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