Therapy is not just about sharing your problems with a provider; it also should help you develop new coping strategies that will help you have the life that you want to live.
Some therapy requires that you practice coping skills and wellness strategies in between sessions. Exercises such as tracking your mood, keeping a journal, or trying new activities may be encouraged to help you make progress.
Most therapy requires that you examine and discuss present-day issues and concerns as well as reflect on past experiences. Processing past events and circumstances can help you to better understand your present experiences. To keep treatment moving forward, you may set goals and milestones with your therapist to understand what progress will look like for you. Remember: everyone’s path to wellness is unique, so progress in therapy may feel easy at some times and more challenging at others. Be kind to yourself in the process and be proud of yourself for taking the steps to receive care.
Therapy can help you:
- understand your mental health condition and its symptoms and treatment options
- define and reach your wellness goals
- overcome fears and insecurities
- cope with stress
- process past traumatic experiences
- identify what may worsen symptoms
- improve relationships with people, especially friends and family
- find the support that you need to help establish healthy routines and habits
- create a safety plan if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others
- gain insight into why things upset you
- set goals, such as reducing or stopping drinking, overspending, gambling, or unhealthy sexual behavior
- understand how food and physical activity can support your overall wellness
Getting the Most Out of Therapy
Progress in therapy will look different for everyone. Some therapy might be short-term while other therapy might require a longer time commitment. You may meet weekly, monthly, or more or less often with your therapist depending on what you need. Regardless of how long your unique process will take, there are some things you can do that will help you to make the most out of your time.
Define your concerns and areas for growth
When you begin therapy, you might not fully understand what circumstances are causing you to experience increased symptoms, but it can be helpful to begin to name what problems are coming up and how you’d like to feel instead. Everyone has room to grow, so determine where you might need some help and what growth would look like for you in this area.
Track progress as you go
Tracking your progress along the way can be a good way to see growth and setbacks. Remember, setbacks are a normal part of any change and therefore, should be expected during any treatment. By managing expectations and tracking progress in real time, you’ll have a better sense of what factors improve or worsen your symptoms. Therapists can also help you to create and track progress with your goals.
Define your goals: What do you want to change?
Knowing what you want to change, or get out of your treatment, can help you to accomplish your goals. A therapist can help you set realistic goals. Sometimes, when we set goals, we want to accomplish everything all at once. Therapists can help you break goals down into smaller, more manageable steps. If you want accountability, ask your therapist to check with you on your goals.
Celebrate milestones and accomplishments
Working through symptoms, creating goals, and moving forward is no easy task! When you have accomplished something challenging, made progress, or simply showed up when you didn’t want to, celebrate, or reward yourself. Processing and working through issues in therapy requires a lot of hard work, so celebrate that you are willing to do hard things for yourself. Your reward should ideally match the accomplishment (e.g., bigger rewards for bigger goals), but remember that every positive change is worthy of a reward (e.g., walking 100 more steps/day, calling a support person, changing one negative thought).
Types of Therapy
There are many different types of therapeutic methods. Understanding their approach and what they treat can help you to make more informed decisions when choosing a provider or working with one. If you are new to therapy, or are working with a provider currently, and do not know what they specialize in, ask them to describe what approaches they are trained in and what approach they use in their work. Many therapists use a blend of multiple types of therapy to help support you. For example, they might be primarily trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but they might also use principles from Family-Focused Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to help support you. Remember to work with your provider to determine what will be best for your unique needs.
Art Therapy is a tool some therapists use to help clients work through emotions and feelings by using the creation of art to support the therapeutic process. Art therapy can be especially helpful for individuals, such as children, who may have a tough time verbally expressing their feelings. People have been relying on art as a healing modality for thousands of years, but it was not formally produced as a treatment option until the 20th century. Mental health providers are now able to be trained and certified as an Art Therapist.
Drama therapy uses theater and storytelling as a modality for healing. This approach allows individuals to tell their stories in unique ways to support the therapeutic process. Drama therapy can take many different forms, but it often relies on techniques such as improvisation, enactment, theater games, and storytelling.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps an individual recognize unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviors associated with those thoughts and encourages positive coping strategies. The therapist will work to help identify thoughts and beliefs that may be worsening symptoms and/or contributing to poor life satisfaction. Once unhelpful thinking patterns are identified, work can begin to shift the behavioral responses to these thoughts. Through practice, individuals can learn to identify unhelpful thinking, change their behavioral responses, and implement healthy coping strategies to feel better.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan, PhD, and has been found to be useful for individuals who feel emotions very intensely and therefore, it has many skills focused on managing emotions more skillfully. DBT includes skills such as mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. This type of therapy can be especially useful for conditions that are exacerbated by intense emotions, such as suicidal thinking, self-harm, substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as depression and bipolar disorder. Treatment with DBT often includes learning new skills in groups, together with individual therapy to apply the skills for your own individual goals and situations. DBT usually lasts between six months and a year.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a type of therapy that was developed for the treatment of trauma, specifically working on traumatic memories. This type of therapy helps individuals process memories and cope with them. During this kind of therapy, the individual recalls challenging memories while focusing on an external stimulus. Focus on the stimulus creates a lateral eye movement. The combination of processing these memories with eye movement helps to input new coping skills or adaptive information that can help an individual better deal with a traumatic memory. EMDR focuses on the past, present, and future. The therapy is used for processing old memories, and the distress it causes. It looks to positive coping mechanisms to support the individual after this therapeutic process.
Exposure therapy was designed to help individuals process fears, phobias, and symptoms associated with social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The concept works by having a clinician work together with an individual to gain exposure to their fears in a safe and structured way. Exposure therapy is often gradual, such that you start with exposure to smaller fears and build up to managing the biggest fears, or what is called “flooding,” wherein the individual is exposed to their greatest and most challenging fear. When done safely and with a trusted therapist, this therapy can help people feel less reactive to certain fears and provide them with the support needed to emotionally process the experiences.
Family-Focused Therapy (FFT)
FFT was developed for children and adults that live with bipolar or schizophrenia. In this approach, education on the condition is paired with problem-solving and communication skills for the entire family. Symptoms of mental health conditions often can cause concerns that impact the family system. Supporting each family member through this type of therapy can lead to better outcomes for the individual living with a mental health condition.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
IPT is a form of therapy focusing on working on the connections between interpersonal relationships and mood. IPT is typically 12-16 weeks and was originally developed to treat depression, but it is also effective for eating disorders, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders.
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT)
IPSRT is an adapted version of IPT that was developed for the treatment of bipolar disorder. The therapy works by having people focus on their biological and social rhythms. Human bodies work around a biological clock, also known as circadian rhythms. The theory behind this type of therapy is that by helping individuals to regulate their body clocks they can better regulate and cope with mood disorder symptoms.
Mentalization-based therapy was originally developed for individuals living with borderline personality disorder. Mentalization means interpreting or understanding the behaviors of oneself or others. This type of therapy is helpful to teach how to interpret one’s own feelings and behaviors. It helps us to better understand how others feel and therefore how they behave.
Play therapy is the main type of therapy used for children, especially children under the age of 12 years old. Children do not verbally express themselves in the same way adults do; therefore, play therapy deploys play as the main mode of communication between therapist and client. Play therapy can help to diagnose underlying causes of behavioral problems for children and can help to identify when children may be experiencing depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, or other mental health conditions. Play therapy tools can be anything from worksheets to games to activities. For more of DBSA’s favorite play therapy tools check out the free resources of the DBSA Mood Crew®.
Psychodynamic therapy is designed to understand unconscious conflicts and behavior. Originally developed by Freud and his contemporaries, this therapy examines how the experiences of our childhood and our unconscious mind shape our present lives. Psychodynamic therapy supports a client to process childhood memories. This approach was one of the first therapies. This approach may prove more effective with conditions such as anxiety or personality disorders rather than for those that may present with psychosis such as schizophrenia. Psychodynamic therapy can be used to treat depression, but it may not be as effective as evidence-based therapies such as CBT and IPT.
Therapy pets or animal therapy use animals to assist in the treatment of mental health or other health conditions. Some types of animals commonly used for this type of therapy include dogs, horses, and birds. Animals can provide protection, comfort, and some can even provide supportive action to help a person’s condition. Pets can improve the client’s mood by helping to reduce boredom, providing meaningful activities of caregiving, facilitating more outdoor time, and social interactions, while increasing general well-being overall.
Finding a Therapist
There are many different types of mental health specialists who provide therapy. Looking for a therapist can be challenging, so consider using the following resources to support your search.
Talk to your Primary Care Doctor
If you notice something feels different with your mood or are having a challenging time doing things that once felt manageable, you may want to start the conversation with your primary care doctor. This doctor will likely be able to provide you with a referral to treatment.
Contact Your Insurance
Your insurance company should be able to help you find a provider that is in your insurance network. Calling the number on the back of your insurance card may be a good place to start.
Employee Assistant Programs (EAPs)
If your health care is provided by your employer, you may have an employee assistance program. Consult with your HR department, which can help get you connected to your EAP program. EAP works by offering a screening over the phone, and then providing a referral to mental health services.
While it may be difficult to find a therapist online, there are certain search tools that can help make it easier. Psychology Today has a free search tool that can help you locate providers in your neighborhood. Providers on this website list their specialties, so this can be helpful to find care that will meet your needs.