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What Is Talk Therapy?

When someone hears the word “therapy,” they may have a certain image in mind. Maybe they think of a patient lying on a couch divulging all of their hopes and fears to another person who’s scribbling furiously in their chair, taking notes, and asking, “and how did that make you feel?” 

Although this scenario is not totally off base, the reality is that there are many different forms of therapy. Most of them look much different from the stereotypical image of therapy. 

However, the image that pops into most people’s heads is largely associated with what’s known as “talk therapy.” As the name implies, talking is the core focus of this version of therapy. A patient will explore their feelings by simply talking about them with a therapist or social worker. While the sessions may be private one-on-one interactions, talk therapy also applies to groups of individuals sharing their thoughts and experiences whether that be in support groups, group therapy or in any group setting.

How Does Talk Therapy Work? 

Simply talking about your feelings can go a long way toward improving mental health and people often seek this support with trusted friends and family members — especially during times of crisis. The idea of seeking out a stranger and even paying them to talk about the most intimate details in your life may seem bizarre to some! 

However, there is much more than just talking involved in talk therapy

Firstly, therapists are trained and highly educated on what to say and how to react when discussing these intense details while the average person in someone’s life will not be. 

Also, a mental health professional will only know their patient based on what they say, while a friend or family member may have a hard time separating the person from their phobias, traumas, or other mental illness or mental disorders. It can be overwhelming for friends and loved ones to offer their ear in unbiased support for someone they care for — possibly even straining the relationship. However, this is not the case for a therapist as it will be a strict doctor-patient relationship, no strings attached! 

Talk therapists are trained to help their patients navigate their problems and identify thought and behavior patterns so that they are better equipped to eventually help themselves. There are no set limits on the type of talk therapy you do, but most sessions typically last around an hour or so and meet up once or twice a week. 

Some patients may see a therapist for a brief amount of time in order to work through a specific issue, while others will see their therapist on a regular basis for years. These are some of the issues that talk therapy sessions can help a person to deal with:

  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Severe Depression or low self-esteem
  • Eating Disorders
  • Grief
  • Phobias
  • Relationship Issues
  • Schizophrenia

What Are the Types of Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, which is technically called psychotherapy, is an umbrella term that covers many different and specific forms of therapy. While they all genuinely involve a heavy emphasis on talking, the details can really differentiate them from one another. Here are some examples of other forms of talk therapy:

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): This therapy style is most effective for treating mental health conditions related to depression and anxiety disorders through a better sense of mindfulness. The focus revolves around what someone thinks rather than what they do. It is dedicated to changing a person’s negative thought patterns in order to address their behavioral responses to situations and stimuli. The idea is that if a patient learns how to identify faulty thought patterns and replace them with healthier and more accurate ways of thinking, then their behavior will improve as a result and thus their quality of life.
    This is a more structured version than most other forms of talk therapy as the therapist will direct sessions and guide their patient’s progress along with a specific treatment plan. For the most part, cognitive behavioral therapy will last for a prescribed amount of time, usually around 12 or so sessions. This therapy is best suited for someone searching for solutions to concretely change their behavior. 
  • Dialectical behavior therapy. Similar to cognitive behavior therapy — and based on its methods — this therapy was originally created to treat borderline personality disorder.  Although that is still the best use for this type of therapy, it can be used to treat other issues as well, such as eating disorders, anger management, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
    This therapy is rooted in the idea that certain types of people are more likely to react in more intense and extreme manners in highly emotional situations, especially involving their relationships with other people. The focus is placed on helping individuals with extreme negative emotions that can be very difficult to manage and helping them to find and achieve emotional balance. The sessions generally focus on helping the patient to develop an ability to hold multiple perspectives at once and reduce black and white thinking that tends to lead to negative outlooks.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This therapy focuses on exploring the past relationships for an individual in order to get a better idea of current challenges and emotional patterns that may have developed over time as a result of said relationships. A therapist will focus on reviewing the life challenges of their patient, including thoughts, emotions, early life experiences, and deeply held beliefs in order to get to the root cause of their patient’s emotional suffering.
    Self-reflection and self-examinations are crucial to this type of therapy and the relationship between a patient and therapist is extremely important. The therapist will work to help their patient recognize recurring emotional patterns, such as defense mechanisms, and use the insight to help change patterns that are ineffective or result in negative outcomes.
  • Humanistic Therapy: The approaches for this therapy revolve around the belief that every human is born with a unique potential, that coupled with the right nurturing, can be realized. Other core principles include: humans are good and naturally strive to better themselves and their world around them, every person has unique and subjective experiences that should serve as starting points for therapy, and humans best achieve growth when treated with unconditional positive regards and experience positive changes.
    There are three different approaches to humanistic therapy. Gestalt therapy focuses on processing the present and what someone is currently dealing with in their life. Client-centered therapy is where the therapist is more of a guide than an authority figure, and the patient will lead the sessions in regards to discussions — which will lead to more self-discovery than other methods. Existential therapy takes a more philosophical approach to treating mental health problems and is based on the tenants of free will, self-determination, and the pursuit of meaning in life. 

Does Talk Therapy Work? 

The answer to whether or not talk therapy works relies on several factors such as the patient’s willingness to be open to the process, answer honestly, and the dynamic of the patient and therapist’s relationship. However, in most cases, talk therapy works, and mental health experts, alongside studies into the effectiveness, support its use in order to treat various conditions.

 In 2015 a review found that cognitive behavior therapy is by far the most consistently supported psychotherapeutic option for treating anxiety disorders. In 2018 a population-based study found that early treatments involving talk therapy can reduce long-term risks of serious mental health conditions for people dealing with bereavement issues. Even the question of whether or not online therapy is less effective has been answered. 

One 2014 study found that online treatment was just as effective as face-to-face treatments for depression. Another 2014 study reported that online cognitive behavior therapy was more cost-effective and also led to a reduction in anxiety symptoms. 

The Takeaway

Talk therapy is a term that includes several different types of therapy, with each having its own focus and treatments. Overall, talk therapy is one of the most popular and most effective versions of therapy available to people in need of mental and emotional assistance.

While it may seem like an easy task, listening to someone’s problems and offering helpful advice can be quite challenging and overwhelming. The responsibility to help this person in need can be daunting as the words said to them will dramatically impact their lives for years to come. This is why it’s best to leave such issues to the professionals

Therapists study for years about mental health-related issues and train specifically to help people that are experiencing them. While a long conversation with a friend can help out with minor issues, it’s best to let a therapist tackle the serious ones. Seeking mental health care support can help anyone form coping strategies to better anyones well-being.


  1. What is psychotherapy? (psychiatry.org) 
  2. Talking therapies (mentalhealth.org.uk)
  3. What Is Talk Therapy? (healthline.com) 
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