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People with Masks
How Therapy Works

What is Therapy and
How Does it Work?

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, is the process by which a person attends sessions with a therapist to talk through their experiences.


In talk therapy, a psychologist will discuss previous traumas and psychiatric conditions with a person in order to treat, evaluate, and diagnose various mental health conditions. The psychologist will help people resolve and process issues verbally. They may also help individuals forge a path forward through disorders that have interfered with daily activities.

Keep reading to learn more about talk therapy, including how it works, the various conditions it may benefit, and how a person could choose a type of therapy that may work best for them.


Talk therapy involves a person enrolling in psychotherapy sessions with a licensed psychologist, psychiatric nurse, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. All of these individuals are qualified to facilitate therapy, and should apply scientifically validated procedures to improve the mental health and well-being of their clients, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).


In a talk therapy session, a counselor may help a person do the following:


  • gain a better understanding of their emotions

  • identify roadblocks and obstacles to optimal mental health

  • overcome anxiety and insecurities

  • cope with stress

  • process previous traumatic experiences

  • work on breaking unhealthy habits

  • discuss possible lifestyle changes

  • pinpoint triggers


At its core, talk therapy, or psychotherapy, allows a person to discuss their concerns, goals, and challenges with a person who holds no biases and no judgments. After a series of sessions, talk therapy should help a person target, and eventually change, patterns of thought and behavior that may be a hindrance to a healthy state of mind. These sessions will always be strictly confidential.


How does talk therapy work?


Generally speaking, when a person enrolls in talk therapy, the therapist, or other healthcare professional leading the sessions, will ask several questions during an initial appointment. This is for the therapist to gain a comprehensive understanding of the person’s history and background, so they can decide on the best course of treatment. Questions at this stage tend to be around the following:

  • family history of mental health conditions

  • past traumas

  • how the patient is coping with their issues in daily life

  • what they hope to achieve through talk therapy

Once they have this information, a therapist will proceed with treatment.

Talk therapy should be an open-ended dialogue about any issues or concerns a person is facing. A psychotherapist may take notes while a person shares information about their family life, relationships, childhood experiences, and symptoms or history of a condition, to name a few examples.

There is no limit on the number of talk therapy sessions a person might attend to gain a deeper understanding of their condition, habits, or challenges. A therapist may recommend regular sessions until they and the person have come up with an action plan for treatment or until the person has made lifestyle improvements.


What should a person talk about in therapy?

One of the primary goals of therapy is to address the problem or problems that are overwhelming to a person. These do not always have to be major traumatic experiences, such as divorce, grief, loss, anxiety, job loss, or addiction. People may wish to discuss themselves in general, exploring their past experiences in order to gain a better understanding of themselves and their thought and behavior patterns.


There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to dialogue and discussion during talk therapy. The facilitator of a session may ask some questions to help a person get started. In other cases, the person undertaking the therapy sessions may talk about whatever is on their mind, and the discussion will stem from there.


A person should never feel forced or pushed by their therapist to discuss events or experiences they are not yet ready to address. If a therapist asks a question that a person feels uncomfortable answering, the person can simply state that they do not wish to discuss it. A therapist may try to guide discussions, allowing the person to make connections between experiences, thoughts, and behaviors, but a therapist will not force a person to discuss things they do not wish to discuss.


What conditions might talk therapy benefit? 

Anyone can potentially benefit from therapy sessions, from those who could use some more clarity and direction in life to people who are struggling with mental health conditions.

That said, there are a few conditions that psychotherapy might be particularly helpful for:

This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of conditions that might benefit from talk therapy. Anything that interferes with a person’s usual daily life may benefit from talk therapy sessions.



There are many types of talk therapy, and some therapists use a blend of techniques based on client need. This is short list of a few types of therapy.


Parent-Child Interaction Therapy


Parent-Child Interaction Therapy – also called PCIT – is an evidence-based, short-term treatment designed to help young children with highly disruptive behavior learn to control their frustration. In PCIT, we work with each parent to strengthen their relationship with their child and build their confidence and ability to effectively guide and direct their child’s behavior, set limits, calmly discipline, and restore positive feelings to their interactions.  PCIT treats the parent, the child and most importantly their interactions. Families change one interaction at a time.


Behavioral therapy


Behavioral therapy seeks to correct self-destructive or self-loathing behaviors by replacing them with healthier ones. This is a common treatment option for people with:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • panic disorder

  • anger issues

  • OCD

  • self-harming tendencies

  • addiction

  • eating disorders

Behavioral therapy may be an option for both adults and children.


Family Systems Theory

The Bowen family systems theory suggests that a family functions as an emotional system wherein each member plays a specific role and must follow certain rules. Based on Bowen’s theory and his study of the family, roles within the emotional system, patterns develop within the emotional system, and each member’s behavior impacts the other members. Depending on the specific human relationship systems and how the emotional systems operates the Bowen family systems theory suggests these behavioral patterns can lead to either balance or dysfunction of the system or both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) places emphasis on how a person’s core beliefs influence their thought patterns, which in turn affect behavioral patterns. CBT primarily helps people identify and correct negative patterns of thought. It may employ techniques such as self-monitoring, mindfulness, and questioning or challenging harmful thoughts.


Humanistic therapy


This is a type of therapy that helps patients focus on self-actualization, or living a life that is true to their real self in order to reach fulfillment. Within this type of therapy is client-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.


Psychodynamic therapy


Of all five categories, psychodynamic therapy is most synonymous with talk therapy. It involves diving into the unconscious meanings and motivations of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to analyze what might be driving them. The person undertaking the therapy might have a treatable condition or may need to address a specific distressing circumstance that is driving their reactions.


Holistic or integrative therapy


A therapist may employ holistic therapy, which involves coming up with a personalized treatment plan that incorporates a variety of therapy types to better serve a person’s needs.

To treat a person’s problems more effectively, a therapist may choose to work with one or more of these five approaches in therapy sessions.

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