Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”, is a treatment that helps people think and act better. It helps people understand themselves and others better (e.g., family members). Psychologists are trained to provide psychotherapy. The best Calgary psychologists will tailor psychotherapy to each specific person’s issues. The therapist will discuss with the patient what he/she would like to work on, chooses an approach based on his/her training, experience, theoretical orientation (see below), and convenience (i.e., location-availability of appointments; payment; insurance).

The choices for psychotherapies reflect different theories about what causes psychological problems (theory behind psychotherapy) . Different psychotherapies have been shown to be helpful for different disorders.

There are psychotherapies for many psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , eating disorders, personality disorders, dissociative disorders (e.g., conversion disorder), sexual dysfunctions, psychosexual dysfunctions due to medical conditions/medication side effects, couples’ therapy and psychotherapy with children . The psychotherapist will choose which psychotherapy is best based on each person’s specific situation and needs.

Although a psychologist is a well-trained professional to provide psychotherapy treatment, there are other mental health professionals who can provide psychotherapeutic treatments. Besides psychologists trained in psychotherapy , psychotherapists can include psychoanalysts (i.e., psychoanalytic psychotherapy), psychiatrists, social workers , professional counselors, psychiatric nurses, family medicine physicians or other medical doctors .

How is psychotherapy different from counseling?

Sometimes the terms psychotherapy and counseling are used interchangeably. While there can be overlap in some interventions, counseling more generally is focused on help with everyday life problems whereas psychotherapy focuses on understanding why a person does certain things/feels certain ways and how to work with this for change. Counseling often takes place in an unstructured way….more here about psychotherapy vs counselling at the end of the article.    

What happens during psychotherapy sessions?

Typically psychotherapy sessions are 50 minutes long. During psychotherapy sessions psychotherapist and patient discuss thoughts, feelings or behaviors that might be causing difficulties for the patient in his/her life. The psychotherapist wants to learn more about what is happening in the person’s mind and body (through asking the person questions).

The psychotherapist carefully listens to what the person says without necessarily judging him/her or telling him/her what he/she thinks is wrong with him. He does not give advice but instead tries to understand why a behavior occurs by using different theories within psychotherapy research . Understanding things better can help people change their reactions and thoughts related to certain situations so they feel better about themselves, others, and their world .    

How do psychotherapists choose psychotherapy theories to use?

As psychotherapy research has evolved (see below), psychotherapists have learned more about which psychotherapies work. Now, psychotherapists can refer to research for guidance as to what might be best for each patient. The psychotherapist will select a psychotherapy based on the individual’s specific needs .

How does psychotherapy research help decide what works best for a person?

Over time, psychologists have built evidence-based practices by reading and interpreting research that compares different types of psychotherapy.. Researchers have studied what happens in therapy from two perspectives: comparing particular psychotherapies with no treatment or placebo treatments (e.g., pill); and studying outcomes in psychotherapy patients compared with psychotherapy patients.

It is important to note that psychotherapy research does not provide a “one size fits all” solution–this would be impossible because psychotherapies are based on theories, and there are many psychotherapy theories . Researchers have studied the psychotherapy process from different perspectives (e.g., psychoanalytic or cognitive-behavioral) in order to find different solutions for different problems.

Since no two people are alike in personality, temperament, abilities, culture , physical health status/symptoms and life situation, they will feel better when treated with psychotherapies that take into account their differences . The idea of individualizing treatment has been emphasized by some experts such as Beutler who has proposed that psychotherapy should be person-centered…more about this below.

Can psychotherapy harm people?

No psychotherapies have been studied to determine whether they harm people . However, psychotherapy is not without risk and psychotherapists want patient to understand all of their options and what they can expect so he/she can feel comfortable in making a decision on whether psychotherapy is the best way to go for them .    

How often does psychotherapy work?

Successful psychotherapy lasts more than 3 months–this means positive changes in thoughts, emotions or behaviors that continue after treatment stops or that return if symptoms recur. Research shows that only 30%-40% of patients improve on their own. If psychotherapy is not successful in helping the patient recover, psychotherapists will try different psychotherapies or psychotherapy techniques until they find what works best for each person .

What has psychotherapy research shown about personality assessment?

Psychologists have studied personality assessment by administering tests (e.g., MMPI) to people seeking psychotherapy. The results of these assessments are only one part of the treatment process and a psychotherapist may not rely on them solely to make a diagnosis or plan treatment.

Psychologists have also studied how well a person responds to certain types of psychotherapy–this information can be used along with test results to help psychologists decide which therapy might work best for an individual. This psychotherapy research has shown psychotherapy to be effective in treating personality disorders. However, psychotherapy should not replace medical treatment when it is needed.

What does psychotherapy research show about psychotherapists?

Psychological researchers have studied psychotherapists because psychotherapy requires special expertise and training . These studies showed that psychotherapists vary in their ability to help people feel better through psychotherapy. Currently there are national standards for licensing therapists which means that the quality of care will improve over time .  

Why do people seek psychotherapy?

Many factors contribute to why individuals seek psychtherapy including physical symptoms (e.g., unexplained pain) , emotional distress (e.g., depression or anxiety) , relationship difficulties (e.g., divorce) , psychosocial stressors (e.g., widowing, job loss), or personal growth (e.g., wanting to break old habits). Therapists help their patients by providing psychotherapy which benefits the patient in many ways including psychoeducation about psychotherapy; psychotherapy does not include “touchy feely” techniques; psychotherapy is designed to reduce distress and increase well-being; psychotherapists are trained professionals using evidence-based therapies; treatment is appropriate for most people without contraindications ; psychotherapy helps patients identify specific goals…

What psychotherapies have been studied?

Psychological researchers have studied short term psychotherapiesless than 10 sessions) as well as psychotherapies with fewer than 20 sessions, psychotherapies with more than 50 sessions and psychotherapy combined with pharmacotherapy.

Psychological researchers have studied psychodynamic psychotherapy (e.g., psychoanalytic treatment), cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy (e.g., CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), behavior therapy, couple therapy, group therapy , family therapy, integrative therapies which use more than one type of psychotherapy…more about all the above are here .


Psychologists are trained to provide psychotherapy. Psychological research studies show psychotherapy to be effective in treating personality disorders, psychotherapy should not replace medical treatment when it is needed and psychotherapists vary in their ability to help people feel better through psychotherapy.