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What Is Psychotherapy?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

December 16, 2023

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Psychotherapy is a term that describes various talk therapies used for the treatment of addictions and mental health disorders.

In sessions of psychotherapy, you will discover more about your addiction or mental health condition. You will also have the opportunity to explore the closely interrelated landscape of your thoughts, your feelings, and your behaviors.

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If you choose to engage with psychotherapy, you may feel more in control of your life after learning how to use healthy coping techniques rather than relying on negative behaviors like substance abuse when confronted by daily stressors.

This guide showcases several different forms of psychotherapy, enabling you to determine whether you might benefit from participating in a psychotherapeutic approach to your recovery.

What is Psychotherapy?

Let’s start with a psychotherapy definition, then. Psychotherapy is a clinical term for an intervention also known as:

  • Talk therapy
  • Therapy
  • Psychosocial therapy

While the terms counseling and psychotherapy are sometimes used interchangeably, these interventions are not the same. Psychotherapy is typically delivered to help treat acute psychological issues. Counseling, on the other hand, is usually used to address surface issues and specific problems.

Psychotherapy can be delivered by any of these professionals:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Psychoanalyst
  • Mental health counselor
  • Licensed clinical counselor
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Licensed clinical social worker

A practitioner will apply a variety of evidence-based procedures using one of a variety of psychotherapeutic approaches – more on those below – with the aim of helping you to work through specific problems.

Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment predicated on the relationship you form with a practitioner. This relationship is described as a therapeutic alliance.

As a type of talk therapy, psychotherapy is based on an open and ongoing dialogue between you and your therapist conducted in a supportive environment. You will work closely with a practitioner or psychologist, discovering how to identify then change any patterns of thinking and behaving that are problematic in your life.

Some types of psychotherapy will last for just a few sessions. Other psychotherapeutic approaches continue for months, possibly for years.

Psychotherapy sessions typically last from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Sessions will follow a highly structured process.

This behavioral intervention is equally as effective when applied in an individual or group setting.

Psychotherapy can be an effective component of an evidence-based treatment plan for the majority of mental health disorders, including:

  • Addictions like substance use disorder (drug addiction) and alcohol use disorder (alcoholism)
  • Mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Anxiety disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia
  • Personality disorders such as BPD (borderline personality disorder) or DPD (dependent personality disorder)
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychotic disorders that cause detachment from reality

Beyond this, psychotherapy may also be helpful for:

  • Defusing conflict
  • Resolving anxiety
  • Coping with major life changes such as job loss, divorce, or bereavement
  • Managing unhealthy responses – passive-aggressive behavior, for instance
  • Coping with chronic health problems such as diabetes, cancer, or conditions associated with chronic pain
  • Recovering from abuse
  • Dealing with sexual problems
  • Improving sleep hygiene

Psychotherapy can deliver equally favorable outcomes to medications like antidepressants for some people grappling with mental health issues. Others find that a personalized combination of psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions delivers the most positive treatment outcomes.

Types of Psychotherapy

There are many styles of psychotherapy and many psychotherapeutic approaches. The most common of these are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Family therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly abbreviated to CBT, is the most commonly administered form of psychotherapy.

In CBT sessions, you will explore how your thoughts and your behaviors can impact the way you act and feel.

CBT is proven effective for treating these conditions:

  • Addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit narcotics
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-esteem issues

Dialectical behavior therapy

DBT is a specific form of CBT with the following core goals:

  • Becoming more mindful of the present moment
  • Developing healthier ways of dealing with stress
  • Regulating your emotions
  • Improving your interpersonal relationships

Developed to treat the symptoms of BPD, DBT is now more widely delivered to treat various mental health disorders like PTSD, as well as alcohol use disorders and substance use disorders.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that shows you more effective ways to communicate and to express your feelings.

This approach can often be effective if you require help building and maintaining positive relationships with others. You can achieve this by changing the way in which you approach interpersonal problems.

Group therapy

Group therapy sessions take place between a therapist and 5 to 15 participants who have similar concerns, such as:

  • Alcohol use disorder (alcoholism)
  • Substance use disorder (drug addiction)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Chronic pain conditions

Group sessions are scheduled either once or twice per week. Group therapy can be used to supplement individual psychotherapy sessions.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy allows you to explore the way in which past experiences influence the way you think and behave now. Many people are not aware of these influences.

Once you have identified the past influences, a therapist can help you tackle them, allowing you to take more control of your life.

Psychodynamic therapy is a much less intensive form of psychoanalysis.

Family therapy

Family therapy provides every member of a family with a safe space, ideal for:

  • Expressing views and opinions
  • Exploring distressing or challenging emotions
  • Better understanding other family members
  • Consolidating your existing strengths
  • Looking for solutions to family-based problems

Family therapy is often most effective when problems relate to family dynamics, or if children are facing life problems.

Psychotherapy for Substance Abuse

Psychotherapy is an approach to treatment that allows you to explore the root cause of your addiction.

The superficial physical aspect of dependence can be addressed during a supervised medical detox. Over a week or so, the toxins will be purged from your system and physical dependence conquered.

Psychotherapy allows you to deal with the psychological component of addiction by exploring the link between your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

CBT is the most commonly utilized form of psychotherapy for treating addictions

During cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, a therapist will guide you to learn that many negative emotions and reactions are neither rational nor logical. Indeed, these behaviors or feelings can stem from environmental cues or from past experiences. A therapist will help you to isolate any negative automatic thoughts that you have. Automatic thoughts are based on impulse rather than logic, often originating from flawed beliefs or from feelings of fear and self-doubt. Many people attempt to self-medicate those feelings with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs.

CBT can be effective as part of an overarching treatment program for substance abuse in the following ways:

  • Helping you to eliminate insecurities or false beliefs that trigger substance abuse.
  • Providing you with self-help tools so you can improve your mood.
  • Imparting effective communication skills.
  • Recognizing, avoiding, or coping with triggers for substance abuse without relapsing.

You can also practice the techniques you learn in CBT outside of therapy sessions.

Is Psychotherapy Effective?

Psychotherapy is proven effective for the treatment of many mental health disorders and most addictions.

Some people might notice perceptible benefits from psychotherapy after just a dozen sessions. Others many need month or perhaps years of treatment before psychotherapy generates positive outcomes.

Psychotherapy can be beneficial in many ways, such as:

  • Helping you to reframe situations, enabling you to view things more positively.
  • Providing you with a confidential outlet where you can explore your problems with the help of an experienced practitioner.
  • Helping you to find new solutions to ongoing problems.

Working closely with your therapist, you can:

  • Identify any sources of tension in your interpersonal relationships.
  • Develop healthy coping skills and techniques so you can face life’s challenges with more confidence and less chance of relapse.
  • Dealing with specific problems.

To get the most from psychotherapy, you require the commitment to make change. You should also take an active role in treatment.

The overall effectiveness of psychotherapy depends on many variables, including:

  • Why you are looking to engage with therapy.
  • Expertise of the practitioner.
  • The therapeutic relationship.
  • Any external support you may access outside of your psychotherapy sessions.

Psychotherapy Treatment Programs

If you want to engage with psychotherapy to address problems associated with substance abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental health issues, the most effective way to achieve this is at inpatient or outpatient rehab.

By choosing treatment at an intensity that offers you the right level of support and structure, you can kickstart your ongoing recovery with one of the approaches to psychotherapy outlined above.

Here at Renaissance Recovery Center in Orange County, we offer comprehensive treatment programs for addictions, mental health conditions, and co-occurring disorders.

Finding a Psychotherapist in Orange County

If you have minor issues that you feel could be addressed in a brief engagement with therapy, your primary healthcare provider may provide you with a referral or recommendation.

For more deep-seated issues involving addiction, mental health disorders, or dual diagnosis – the simultaneous presentation of addictions and mental health conditions – you would benefit from intensive outpatient treatment. This is our specialty here at Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California.

Our IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) offer up to 15 hours of weekly therapy, while our PHPs (partial hospitalization programs) are full-time outpatient programs offering up to 35 hours of weekly therapy.

Whichever level of treatment intensity is most suitable for your needs, you can access the following evidence-based therapies:

  • Psychotherapy
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Adventure therapy

When you complete your treatment program, you’ll either transition to a less intensive form of treatment or move straight back into day-to-day life. Your treatment team will ensure you have an aftercare plan that includes ongoing access to psychotherapy and counseling if required, relapse prevention strategies, and access to the Renaissance alumni program.Take the first steps toward lasting recovery today by contacting admissions at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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