Information on the functioning of psychotherapy

Going to psychotherapy can be an unknown and confusing process at first. That is why we have decided to develop, based on reliable information and a practical guide on how this process works to provide a general idea of what to expect when deciding to start a psychotherapeutic process.

According to the Mayo Clinic (2018), psychotherapy can be useful for treating most mental health problems, which includes the following:


  • Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder Addictions, such as alcoholism, drug dependence or gambling.

  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

  • Personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or personality dependent disorder.

  • Schizophrenia or other disorders that cause disconnection with reality (psychotic disorders).

Besides from helping to treat moderate and severe mental problems, psychotherapy can help manage an infinite number of conflicts and everyday problems that can affect anyone. For example, it can be useful for:


  • Resolve conflicts with your partner or with another person in your life.

  • Relieve anxiety or stress from work issues or other situations.

  • Face important life changes, such as divorce, death of a loved one or loss of a job.

  • Learn to control unhealthy reactions, such as attacks by traffic issues or passive-aggressive behavior.

  • Assume a serious or progressive physical health problem, such as diabetes, cancer or long-term (chronic) pain.

  • Recover from physical or sexual abuse or witnessing acts of violence.

  • Face sexual problems of physical or psychological cause.

  • Sleep better, if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia).

The effectiveness of psychotherapy can be as effective as antidepressants and other medications. However, depending on the specific situation, the process alone may not be enough to relieve the symptoms of a mental health illness. Medications and other treatments may be necessary.

Types of Psychotherapy

There are several types of psychotherapy that have proven effective. In general, the characteristics of the person and the patient are taken into account, as well as the work context to use an appropriate model or methodology. The therapist eventually ends up also adjusting to the client´s needs. In general, according to the Mayo Clinic (2018), some types of effective psychotherapy are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify negative and unhealthy behaviors or beliefs and replace them with positive and healthy ones.

  • Dialectical behavioral therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches behavioral strategies to help you manage stress, control your emotions and improve relationships with others.

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy, which helps you to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings, to accept them and to commit to making changes, which increases your ability to face situations and adapt to them.

  • Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies, which focus on helping you recognize unconscious thoughts and behaviors and, in this way, develop new perspectives of your motivations and resolve conflicts.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy, which focuses on addressing the problems of your current relationships with other people, to improve your interpersonal skills and how you interact with others (family, friends and colleagues).

What to expect during the psychotherapeutic process?

Usually, the process involves the client sharing and expressing their thoughts and feelings about the reason for consultation. Initially it is normal to feel that it is difficult to express these difficulties. For this, the therapist will try to form an alliance and collaborate together to help you feel more secure and comfortable as time goes by.

According to the Mayo Clinic (2018), given the contents treated in the sessions, you may find yourself crying, distraught or even having an outburst of rage in the middle of a session. Some people feel physically exhausted after a session. The therapist is always available to help you deal with those feelings and emotions.
The therapist may ask you to do "homework": activities or practices based on what you learn during your usual therapy sessions. Over time, talking about your concerns can help you improve your mood, change the way you think and feel about yourself, and improve your ability to deal with problems.


Except in very specific and infrequent circumstances, conversations with the therapist are confidential. However, a therapist may violate confidentiality if there is an immediate threat to safety (of the patient or another person) or if state or federal law requires that you report your concerns to the authorities. The therapist can answer your questions about confidentiality.

Duration of psychotherapy

The amount of psychotherapy sessions you need, as well as the frequency of the sessions, depends on the following factors:

  • Your particular situation or mental illness

  • Severity of symptoms

  • How long did you suffer from the symptoms or had to live with the problem?

  • How quickly you evolve

  • How much stress are you suffering?

  • To what extent your mental health problems interfere with your daily activities

  • How much help do you get from your family and other people?

  • Cost restrictions and medical insurance

You may only need a few weeks to help you face a short-term problem. Or, the treatment can last a year or more, if you have prolonged mental illness or other long-term problems.


It is possible that psychotherapy does not cure your disease or make an unpleasant situation disappear. But it can give you the power to face it in a healthy way and thus feel better about yourself and your life.

Get the most out of psychotherapy

You take steps to get the maximum benefit from therapy and help make it a success.

  • Make sure you feel comfortable with the therapist. If not, find another therapist with whom you feel more comfortable.

  • Focus on therapy as a society. Therapy is more effective if you are an active participant and share decision making. Be sure to agree with your therapist what the main problems are and how to address them. Together they can set goals and measure progress over time.

  • Be open and honest. Success depends on the willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and consider new perspectives, ideas and ways of doing things. If you are reluctant to talk about certain topics because of painful emotions, shame or fear about the therapist´s reaction, let your therapist know.

  • Comply with your treatment plan. If you feel depressed or lack motivation, it might be tempting to skip psychotherapy sessions. If you do, you can interrupt your progress. Try to attend all sessions and express what you want to talk about.

  • Do not expect instant results. Working on emotional issues can be painful and require hard work. You may need several sessions before starting to see improvements.

  • Do your homework between sessions. If your therapist asks you to document your thoughts in a diary or do activities outside of therapy sessions, follow their instructions. This homework can help you put into practice in your life what you have learned in therapy sessions.

  • If psychotherapy is not helping you, talk to your therapist. If you feel that you are not benefiting from therapy after several sessions, talk to your therapist about this. You and your therapist may decide to make some changes or try a different approach that could be more effective.

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