Psychotherapy is an intentional interpersonal relationship used by trained psychotherapists to aid a patient in problems of living. It aims to increase the individual’s sense of well-being and reduce their subjective sense of discomfort. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialogue, communication and behaviour change and that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships (such as in a family). Psychotherapy may be performed by practitioners with a number of different qualifications, including psychologists, marriage and family therapists, licenced clinical social workers, counsellors, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatrists.
Most forms of psychotherapy use spoken conversation. Some also use various other forms of communication such as the written word, artwork, drama, narrative story or music. Psychotherapy occurs within a structured encounter between a trained therapist and client(s). Purposeful, theoretically based psychotherapy began in the 19th century with psychoanalysis; since then, scores of other approaches have been developed and continue to be created.
Therapy is generally employed in response to a variety of specific or non-specific manifestations of clinically diagnosable and/or existential crises. Treatment of everyday problems is more often referred to as councelling. However, the term counselling is sometimes used interchangeably with “psychotherapy”.
Whilst some psychotherapeutic interventions are designed to treat the patient employing the medical model, many psychotherapeutic approaches do not adhere to the symptom-based model of “illness/cure”. Some practitioners, such as humanistic therapists, see themselves more in a facilitative/helper role. As sensitive and deeply personal topics are often discussed during psychotherapy, therapists are expected, and usually legally bound, to respect client or patient confidentiality. The critical importance of confidentiality is enshrined in the regulatory psychotherapeutic organisations’ codes of ethical practice.