What is psychotherapy? Main characteristics of this process

What is psychotherapy? Main characteristics of this process

A summary of the most important characteristics of psychological therapy.

Psychotherapy is not a complex process, in which patient and therapist establish a relationship of trust, but always without losing sight of what defines a professional context.

Several aspects define good psychotherapy, how long it should last, and its objectives. Next, we are going to answer in depth the question of what psychotherapy is.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is the treatment that aims to change thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors that may have generated discomfort and problems in the patient’s mental health. This process is carried out between a professional, with training and clinical skills necessary to facilitate psychological change and the patient or client who has come to the consultation seeking help.

The psychologist listens to the suffering, difficulties, problems, and doubts of the patient, favoring the expression of what he has experienced. In addition, with the work of the psychologist, it will be possible to put words to what the patient has experienced, making available different techniques, preferably scientifically validated, such as reformulation of problems, open questions, and situation-setting exercises… All these techniques can vary depending on the current of the psychologist, being able to be cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, humanistic…

The main intention of applying these techniques is to achieve changes in the patient, creating new, healthier, and more effective habits that will allow them to increase their well-being. This is achieved in the psychotherapeutic context by making the patient confront himself, his problems, virtues, and defects, in addition to applying the techniques learned in consultation. The ultimate goal of the process is to ensure that the patient achieves a happier, healthier, and more productive life.

When is it necessary?

In popular culture, there are still many myths around psychotherapy, among which the one that “going to the psychologist is for crazy people” stands out. Also, going to a psychologist is seen as something excessive for problems perceived as solvable from home or a circle of acquaintances. Others may consider that they are fine and do not need the help of any mental health professional.

However, going to psychotherapy is always a good option, regardless of whether you have a serious psychological problem or simply want to take more control of your life. It is worth overcoming the fear of going to the psychologist, especially if one takes into account that, sometimes, one suffers from something that has a relatively easy solution in the hands of a professional, such as momentary depressive, anxiety, or virulent episodes. fits of anger

Psychotherapy is also recommended for people who are suffering from a serious medical illness. Going to a psychotherapist is highly recommended in cases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, morbid obesity, terminal illnesses, loss of a limb, amyotrophic lateral atrophy (ALS), and hearing and/or visual impairment… Although going to a psychologist is not going to Cure the disease will help the person accept the process, take a more optimistic and constructive view of their life, or, in the case of a chronic disease, learn strategies to cope with it.

Another of the reasons why you can go to psychotherapy has nothing to do with psychopathology or medical illnesses, but with situations in which if you do not receive the proper help, the health of those involved may be harmed, such as divorce. , the departure of children, feeling saturated in studies or work, or the loss of a loved one.

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Characteristics of psychotherapy

These are the main characteristics that define psychotherapy, both related to the patient and the therapist.

  • The dissatisfaction of patients with their thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
  • Need and search for help.
  • Therapists create a warm, supportive, and respectful emotional atmosphere.
  • Confidence and hope are fostered in the patient.
  • The patient is not criticized.
  • The therapy is aimed at producing changes consistent with the patient’s goals.
  • It is about increasing the well-being of the patient.
  • Teach meaningful emotional, behavioral, and cognitive learning.
  • Neutralization of irrational fears.

The most important characteristics of psychotherapy have to do with establishing a solid therapeutic alliance between patient and therapist. It is through this that it contributes to the creation of a warm atmosphere in which the patient is honest and explains everything that happens to him, in addition to bringing to light his irrational beliefs.

With this, the psychologist will try to develop strategies to change maladjusted behavior patterns, irrational fears, dysphoric emotions, and dysfunctional ways of relating to others.

Treatment progression

As psychotherapy progresses, the therapeutic alliance between patient and practitioner will continue to be forged. During this process, the psychologist can carry out some evaluations, such as the application of questionnaires, to get to know the patient more thoroughly. Clinical psychologists are trained to administer and interpret tests of various types, such as personality and intelligence tests, as well as questionnaires to determine the degree of malaise, depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems.

Once the patient has answered the tests, whatever they may be, the psychologist has objective information about him. Based on the results of these tests, an accurate diagnosis can be made of what the patient’s problem is, in addition to knowing their personality traits, if they have a high endowment or, on the contrary, if they suffer from some type of personality disorder or intellectual disability. . Based on all this information obtained, the psychologist can establish a script of how the treatment will progress.

In the first stage of the process, the psychologist will help the patient to clarify the situation of his problem. In addition, she will explain to him how the therapy is going to proceed, and how many times he will have to go to the consultation a week. This part of the process usually occurs in the first sessions which, depending on the tests administered and the complexity of the patient’s problem, can range from one session to three or four.

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Once this stage is over, action is taken, and this is the solution to the problems. For this, both the patient and the therapist will work together, although in an asymmetric and professional relationship, since the psychologist is the one who has the expert knowledge and knows what strategies should be applied. At this point in therapy, it is about finding ways of thinking, behaving, and managing feelings that are effective for the patient in coping with the adversities in her life.

Throughout the sessions, the psychologist can ask the patient to perform dramatization exercises of the new behaviors learned. He will also ask you to repeat them while you are at home or in a problem situation. As the treatment progresses, the psychologist and the patient will observe whether or not there is a real process or, if not, it is necessary to reformulate the original objectives.

When psychotherapy progresses properly, the patient acquires new skills that will make him see himself differently, in addition to having a more positive outlook on life. With treatment, he will learn to distinguish between situations that he can change and situations that cannot, applying what he has learned by trying to change the former and accepting the latter. He will also acquire greater resilience, that is, better deal with challenges and adversities without having a whole series of dysfunctional thoughts that would increase his discomfort.


In the psychologist’s profession, confidentiality and respect for the patient’s privacy is essential and are part of the profession’s code of ethics. A clinical psychologist who violates patient confidentiality risks losing the ability to practice his profession. With this in mind, patients should not worry about what they might say in a psychotherapeutic context, being able to speak candidly and honestly about their most intimate thoughts and behaviors.

Although the patient should not fear that the psychologist will reveal his secrets, there are situations in which this confidentiality is broken, but in a justified way. Examples of this are when there is a court order in which psychological data is needed from one of those involved in a legal process, the patient has stated that he is going to commit suicide or harm third parties or abuse, exploitation is being committed, or abandonment of children, the elderly or the helpless, such as the severely disabled.

Effectiveness of psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is known for being a conversational therapy, in which dialogue is essential for it to take place. Knowing this, more than one may have wondered why you have to go to a psychologist when you have a group of friends and family with whom you can talk about problems.

Psychologists are much more than just anyone to vent to. They are professionals who have expert knowledge, acquired over several years of training, to be able to understand people’s problems, as well as find a way to solve them and increase their well-being. In addition, there is scientific evidence that shows that psychotherapy is an effective treatment, and perfectly combinable with psychiatric treatments.

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Approximately 75% of people who undergo psychotherapy see some benefit as it progresses, normally after between 6 and 12. Also, comparative studies have been done between those who go and those who do not go to a psychologist, with an 80 % of people who have attended psychotherapy who feel much better at the end of treatment.

Three factors make a psychotherapeutic treatment work :

  • Treatment is based on evidence and appropriate to the patient’s problem.
  • Clinical knowledge of the psychologist.
  • Characteristics, beliefs, values, culture, and preferences of the patient.

At the end of the process

Although it is often thought that psychotherapy is a process that lasts for years, this is not always the case. The duration of psychotherapy depends on several factors, such as the type of problem or disorder the patient suffers from, their personality and cultural characteristics, a history of psychological problems, and the treatments they have undergone. The patient’s goals and expectations about the therapy also play a role, as well as what happens beyond the consultation.

Although it is not recommended, a single session is enough for some, to feel immediate relief. It is not recommended to the extent that a single session is not enough to know, in-depth, what the patient’s problem is like and if there has been a significant and lasting improvement. Although it should be noted that in the first contact the patient can acquire a new perspective and that the psychologist can provide him with ways to deal with situations.

Many find benefits after a few sessions, especially if it is a single and well-defined problem, in which they have not waited long to act when it appeared. Other people and situations may take longer, such as a year or two, to begin to see truly lasting benefits in a person’s level of well-being. This is what can happen to people who have suffered serious trauma or who have faced serious problems.

People with severe and chronic mental disorders may require psychotherapy indefinitely, accompanied by pharmacology and visits to the psychiatrist to assess whether they suffer from any side effects of the medication. Regular psychotherapy sessions can provide the necessary support to maintain good daily functioning, despite suffering from a condition that, unfortunately, is often chronic.

Other people, despite having solved their problems, can continue to go to psychotherapy. This may be because they continue to enjoy a better understanding of life, and better well-being and it gives them the feeling that by going to a psychotherapist they work better. Going to the psychologist, if you are well, should not be seen as looking for problems that we do not have, but rather as a way of making sure how well you are, like who goes to the doctor to have a check-up or who goes to the dentist to have teeth cleaning.

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