Talking about your feelings with a mental health professional may be key to finding your path to healing.
Talking with someone you trust about what’s troubling you can give you a sense of relief. It can also help you uncover new insights about yourself, get motivated to adjust your behavior, or feel lighter by getting it off your chest.
This can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing and give you more options to cope with what’s distressing you.
This is the role of talk therapy (or psychotherapy), and it’s one common treatment option for people living with mental health conditions or experiencing everyday challenges.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition in a given year. And
But is talk therapy effective? How does it work? And what happens when psychotherapy is not the best route to treat your condition?
Talk therapy is about having an open and honest dialogue with a certified mental health professional about your mental or emotional state.
This dialogue can be with a:
A 2018 study suggests that psychotherapy can be effective in treating various mental health conditions and daily challenges, such as:
“Think of talk therapy as a way for you to have an unbiased, personal journal,” says Lena Suarez-Angelino, a licensed clinical social worker and empowerment coach. “However, instead of just keeping a journal, you have someone that is listening, validating, and highlighting recurring or repeating themes that you may not notice yourself.”
You can also enhance your self-awareness and the way you communicate. This may gradually improve your overall quality of life.
“Talk therapy sessions can look different, depending on your readiness to share, the therapeutic relationship established with your therapist, as well as the style of conversation or therapeutic approach your therapist uses,” says Suarez-Angelino.
Most commonly, these sessions last between 45 and 60 minutes and occur on a weekly basis. But, they can also be scheduled as often as once or twice a week, or less frequently, such as biweekly or monthly.
“It really is determined by a handful of factors, including your treatment progress, your insurance, and the recommendations made by your therapist,” Suarez-Angelino says.
Similar to the frequency, what you do between sessions can be customized, too. Some therapists like to provide homework or exercises in between sessions. This could be a great option if you’re looking for more coping tools or you enjoy the extra support.
“Talk therapy creates a safe space for you to process and share aloud thoughts and feelings that you may not feel safe or comfortable expressing anywhere else,” Suarez-Angelino explains.
You may wonder how effective or successful talk therapy is. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), about 75% — or 3 in 4 people — who try talk therapy notice its benefits.
Talk therapy can help you work through mental health conditions, such as:
- eating disorders
- relationship issues
- fears and phobias
- bipolar disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Talk therapy can also be beneficial for those grieving the loss of a loved one. According to a
Some benefits of talk therapy you could experience are:
- enhanced relationships
- new insights into your life
- heightened self-confidence
- improved communication skills
- ability to make healthier choices
- access to helpful coping strategies
In some ways, finding a therapist can feel a lot like dating, and it may take a few tries to get the right one.
To get started, Suarez-Angelino encourages people seeking talk therapy to schedule a consultation to gauge how they get along with each therapist and to get a sense of their approach to therapy.
Some therapists might even offer a free consultation, and it would typically last between 10 and 15 minutes.
When vetting therapists, consider looking for keywords in their profile or website that show they have experience with what you’re going through, such as anxiety, family troubles, or PTSD.
You can source many accredited mental health professionals using Psych Central’s directory.
And if you’re still not convinced, that’s OK. Talk therapy is just one mental health treatment option.
There are many different types of talk therapy that can be beneficial for different conditions, people, and situations.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is about understanding the cause and effect between your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
This goal-oriented approach can include a number of techniques, such as:
- identifying negative thoughts
- goal setting
By challenging and modifying your existing views through CBT, you can adjust how to step into, experience, and think about the world.
A humanistic therapy approach is different from CBT in that it focuses more on helping you feel worthy and fulfilled and be your true self.
This type of talk therapy creates a space to counter the “I am not enough” feeling and help you overcome blocks in your personal growth journey.
According to Rathore, rather than focusing on cause and effect, humanistic therapy focuses on your day-to-day life and “strives to foster the potential in an individual.”
This form of talk therapy involves a strong client-therapist relationship and could be good for “anyone who struggles with feeling whole as a person, lacks positive support in their lives, or is seeking to improve themselves,” adds Rathore.
Psychoanalysis enforces that your behaviors and emotions directly result from your unconscious thoughts or motivations. That is, who you are is based on your past experiences (often related to your childhood).
This therapeutic approach centers on “understanding and releasing the repressed emotions, thoughts, and experiences by bringing them to the conscious mind,” Rathore says.
This could be good for anyone who has deeply rooted issues. Your therapist could work with you to uncover and analyze these issues to see how they’re influencing your present life.
Psychotherapy provides a safe space where people communicate with mental health professionals about the issues that are causing emotional distress.
While talk therapy isn’t for everyone, it could be for you.
Talk therapy is an option to consider if you are:
- experiencing emotional distress
- living with mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression
- looking to learn coping and communication skills
- looking to improve your mental well-being
If talk therapy isn’t the best fit, there are other mental health options and resources to help you get to where you want to be. If you want more direction, consider this quiz.
Finding talk therapy resources
If you’re ready, these resources may help you take the first step in reaching out for professional support:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness’s HelpLine and support tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s helpline and directory of trusted sources
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists