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 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.

You will meet your therapist regularly, usually once a week, for several months, or sometimes even years. Individual sessions last about 50 minutes, but group sessions are often a bit longer.

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 them 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.

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

What is psychotherapy used to treat?

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

People with significant emotional problems may also benefit from psychotherapy, including people dealing with stress, bereavement, divorce, redundancy, or relationship problems.

Types of psychotherapy

Several different types of psychotherapy are available. These include:

  • psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy – a psychoanalytic therapist will encourage you to say whatever is going through your mind. This will help you 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 work out coping strategies.
  • humanistic therapies – encourage you to think about yourself more positively and aim to improve your self-awareness.
  • family and couple (systemic) therapy – therapy with other members of your family that aims to help you work out problems together.

The type of therapy that's most suitable for you will depend on the problem you have.

Read more about how psychotherapy works.

How can I get psychotherapy?

If you think you might benefit from psychotherapy, the best place to start is with your GP. In some cases, it may be possible for your GP or another healthcare professional to refer you a qualified psychotherapist for free treatment on the NHS. However, waiting lists for NHS treatment are often long.

Alternatively, you might choose to pay for private treatment. In these cases, it's important to make sure your therapist is registered with a recognised professional organisation and to be aware of the costs involved. 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, that they have experience of treating your specific condition. You can search the directory of psychological therapy services to find what's available in your area.

Your GP may also be able to recommend a local qualified psychotherapist, or you can check the registers of the various organisations of registered psychotherapists.

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

Page last reviewed: 14/04/2015

Next review due: 14/04/2017