Introduction 

Psychotherapy is a type of therapy used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions.

It involves talking to a trained therapist, either one-to-one, in a group or with your wife, husband or partner. It allows you to look deeper into your problems and worries and deal with troublesome habits and a wide range of mental disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia.

Psychotherapy usually involves talking but sometimes other methods may be used – for example, art, music, drama and movement.

Psychotherapy can help you to discuss feelings you have about yourself and other people, particularly family and those close to you. In some cases, couples or families are offered joint therapy sessions together.

A therapist will treat sessions as confidential. This means you can trust them with information that may be personal or embarrassing.

Read more about how psychotherapy works.

Psychotherapists

Psychotherapists are mental health professionals who are trained to listen to a person's problems to try to find out what's causing them and help find a solution.

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

Some therapists teach specific skills to help you tolerate painful emotions, manage relationships more effectively or improve behaviour. You may also be encouraged to develop your own solutions. In group therapy, the members support each other with advice and encouragement.

What is psychotherapy used to treat?

Psychotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including: 

Types of psychotherapy

There are several different types of psychotherapy that have been proven to be effective and are offered on the NHS. These are described below.

  • Psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy – a psychoanalytic therapist will encourage you to say whatever is going through your mind. This will help you to become aware of hidden meanings or patterns in what you do or say that may be contributing to your problems.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a form of psychotherapy that examines how beliefs and thoughts are linked to behaviour and feelings. It teaches skills that retrain your behaviour and style of thinking to help you deal with stressful situations.
  • Cognitive analytical therapy (CAT) – uses methods from both psychodynamic psychotherapy and CBT to work out how your behaviour causes problems and how to improve it through self-help and experimentation.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) – looks at the way an illness can be triggered by events involving relationships with others, such as bereavements, disputes or relocation. It helps you cope with the feelings involved as well as working out coping strategies.
  • Humanistic therapies – encourage you to think about yourself more positively and aim to improve your self-awareness.
  • Family and marital (systemic) therapy – therapy with other members of your family that aims to help you work out problems together.

If you have psychotherapy, you will meet your therapist regularly, usually once a week. However, in some cases, more frequent sessions may be needed.

A short-term course of psychotherapy may involve anything between 6 and 20 sessions, with individual sessions lasting about 50-60 minutes. Group sessions are often longer.

Read more about how psychotherapy works.

How can I get psychotherapy?

If you're interested in psychotherapy, the best place to start is with your GP.

In 2010, the government announced plans to make psychological therapies more widely available on the NHS because they have been recognised as effective treatments for common mental health conditions.

If your GP or another healthcare professional refers you to a qualified psychotherapist, you will receive psychotherapy through the NHS free of charge. However, psychotherapies are not always available on the NHS and you may need to pay for private treatment.

The cost of private psychotherapy will depend on the type of therapy and the individual psychotherapist. Ask how much each session will cost and agree on a price beforehand. Typically, a 50 minute one-to-one session can range from £40 to £100.

Read more about the availability of psychotherapy.

Finding psychotherapy services

When looking for a psychotherapist, make sure they're fully qualified and if appropriate, they have experience in treating your specific condition. 

Find counselling and psychological therapy services in your area.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) can also help you find a therapist, as can the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).




Attitudes to mental health

Four people who've had mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia and personality disorder, talk about the negative reactions they faced and how they overcame them.

Media last reviewed: 29/08/2013

Next review due: 29/08/2015

Self-help

If you have a problem, such as mild anxiety or depression, which you feel you may be able to improve yourself without professional treatment, there are many self-help books available.

These are mainly based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The websites of charities involved in your condition can also be useful resources.

The Department of Health recommends two software programs you can access on the internet, which may be useful if you're considering self-help. They are:

NHS Choices also has a number of useful mental health podcasts dealing with issues such as anxiety, low mood, low confidence, and panic attacks.

Free audio guides to boost your mood

Eight Moodzone mental wellbeing audio guides designed to help you better understand the problems you may be facing in your life

Page last reviewed: 22/05/2013

Next review due: 22/05/2015