What is Psychotherapy: 15 Techniques and Exercises (+PDF) (2022)

What is Psychotherapy: 15 Techniques and Exercises (+PDF) (1)Psychotherapy is a type of treatment for a variety of mental disorders that has been used in psychology for decades.

This article will cover what psychotherapy is and how it can benefit people with various disorders.

This article will also discuss some ways that psychotherapists can improve their own practice for the betterment of their clients.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

  • What is Psychotherapy? A Definition
  • How to Deal with Resistance in Psychotherapy: Techniques for Therapists
  • The 10 Best Psychotherapy Interventions
  • What is the Best Psychotherapy Counseling Treatment
  • A Take-Home Message
  • References

What is Psychotherapy? A Definition

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychotherapy can be defined as a “collaborative treatment … between an individual and a psychologist” where the psychologist uses “scientifically validated procedures to help people develop healthier, more effective habits.” For a more in-depth discussion of what psychotherapy is and how it’s used, consult this PDF from the Southern California Psychiatric Society.

For our purposes, we can define psychotherapy as a psychological treatment for a variety of mental health disorders that may or may not be delivered in concert with pharmaceutical treatment.

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5 Psychotherapy Techniques, Tools & Exercises

One recent paper laid out a generalized approach that psychotherapists should take to lead successful sessions (Yager & Feinstein, 2017). This approach is broken up into four steps:

  • Relating: This includes respecting the patient’s self-esteem and struggles, as well as being kind.
  • Exploring: This includes paying attention to what a client says (as well as what they don’t say) and their body language, as well as asking questions to better understand the client and clear up contradictions.
  • Explaining: This includes considering how the client’s and the therapist’s cognitive biases may be shaping the session, as well as considering any other factors (sociological, interpersonal, developmental, etc.) that could shape the client’s thinking, then finally ask the client whether or not they agree with your hunches and conclusions.
  • Intervening: This includes presenting one’s interpretations to the client so they can agree or disagree with them, not enabling the client’s destructive or dishonest behaviors, and teaching the client ways to deal with their issues (such as coping skills).

Another issue with psychotherapy is that clinicians generally underestimate the number of clients who leave treatment with no benefit, or at risk of deterioration (Lambert, 2017). The first step to correcting this issue is to make therapists aware of the discrepancy between how they think treatment is progressing and how the client is actually progressing.

One way to do this is the Outcome Questionnaire-45 (OQ-45), which is a 45-question self-assessment that clients can complete at the end of each session to track their therapeutic progress. If therapists offer this option to clients, they can more quickly identify clients in need of modified treatment plans.

There is also a Youth Outcome Questionnaire-30 (Y-OQ-30) for children and adolescents, which can either be completed by the client or their parent(s). By using these tools, psychotherapists can ensure their treatment plans are effective and modify them if they are not.

How to Deal with Resistance in Psychotherapy: Techniques for Therapists

What is Psychotherapy: 15 Techniques and Exercises (+PDF) (2)One way to deal with resistance in psychotherapy is for the therapist to ask the client for feedback at the end of each session, and attempt to modify their treatment plan in response to that feedback (Esmiol-Wilson et al., 2017).

For example, certain clients whose feedback was solicited expressed that their therapist did not understand their situations because of their own privilege as a therapist.

The therapist was then able to recognize this and incorporate it into their treatment so that they could deal with their client from a more honest and open perspective.

Another study looking at resistance in psychotherapy focused specifically on in-session distress (Yasky et al., 2016). These researchers had clients complete post-session questionnaires which asked them to identify any in-session distress they experienced. From there, the therapists were more careful to monitor in-session distress and discussed this distress with their client when they felt it was becoming an issue.

When in-session distress was identified and discussed, clients completed more therapy sessions and achieved better post-therapy outcomes.

This idea is reinforced in the description of a case study of a man who sought therapy for anger issues at the behest of his wife (Dowd, 2016). When the therapist was encountering extreme resistance from the client, she briefly stopped the session and (politely) confronted him about his resistance, allowing the client to feel that he was being listened to.

From there, the therapist gave the client more control by allowing him to structure the session himself, at which point he became less guarded and was eventually able to resolve some of his issues (with multiple psychotherapy sessions).

(Video) Case study clinical example CBT: First session with a client with symptoms of depression (CBT model)

The common thread in all three of these papers is the idea of adaptability.

In all cases, therapists encountered resistance when they ran the sessions by the book and somewhat rigidly. By getting direct feedback from the client, the therapists were able to modify their treatment plans to address the client’s concerns, and from there they encountered less resistance.

Since psychotherapy is supposed to be an individualized process, the ability to adapt a treatment plan is crucial for any therapist encountering resistance.

The 10 Best Psychotherapy Interventions

What is Psychotherapy: 15 Techniques and Exercises (+PDF) (3)While different psychotherapy interventions can be useful for different people and for different disorders, here are 10 of the best-proven psychotherapy interventions out there.

Three psychotherapy treatment plans which have been described as empirically supported treatments (ESTs) are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, and supportive psychotherapy (Feinstein et al., 2015).

According to the Mayo Clinic, CBT “helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones”.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy consists of “increasing your awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors, developing new insights into your motivations, and resolving conflicts”, while supportive psychotherapy “reinforces your ability to cope with stress and difficult situations“.

Psychotherapy incorporating aspects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been shown to be effective for reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety (Call et al., 2014).

According to the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, MBSR aims to help you “[d]evelop the ability to cope more effectively with both short-term and long-term stressful situations”. This is an interesting finding because mindfulness and the teachings of MBSR can easily be incorporated into traditional psychotherapy.

Short-term psychodynamic therapy with mentalization-based therapy (STMBP) has been shown to be an effective treatment for a major depressive disorder (MDD) (Bressi et al., 2017). According to Dr. John Grohol with PsychCentral, mentalization-based therapy (MBT) aims to “[help] people to differentiate and separate out their own thoughts and feelings from those around them”. This is another example of how a simple adaptation of a traditional psychotherapy treatment can make it beneficial to more people.

Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy has been shown to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety symptoms in cancer patients (Belser et al., 2017). In this study, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy referred to a long psychotherapy session during which the client had been administered psilocybin.

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Unlike most psychotherapy, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy would likely only consist of a single session, though that session may be part of a longer, multi-session treatment plan.

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in adolescents (Pu et al., 2017). According to the Mayo Clinic, IPT “focuses on addressing problems with your current relationships with other people to improve your interpersonal skills”. IPT can be effective in treating disorders that lead to social deficiencies, as well as in marriage and family therapy.

Cognitive hypnotherapy (CH) has been shown to be effective in treating anger issues (Dowd, 2016). Cognitive hypnotherapy is an “integration of hypnosis with CBT” that initially arose as a way to use hypnosis to treat depression (Alladin, 2012). This is a good example of how traditional psychological ideas (such as hypnosis) can be made more palatable to skeptics through integration with more modern, empirically-supported treatments.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been shown to be effective for reducing suicidal ideation as well as depression and anxiety symptoms in combat veterans (Goodman et al., 2016). Dialectical behavior therapy is “a type of CBT that teaches behavioral skills to help you handle stress, manage your emotions and improve your relationships with others”, according to the Mayo Clinic. While DBT is an adaptation of CBT, it is widely used enough to merit its own mention.

A type of art therapy called short-term clay art therapy (CAT) has been shown to be effective in improving the mental health of participants with MDD (Nan & Ho, 2017). According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship”.

Art Therapycan help children, adolescents, and less vocally-expressive adults get more out of a psychotherapy session than traditional talk therapy.

What is the Best Psychotherapy Counseling Treatment

Since psychotherapy is such a personal undertaking, there is no single best “one-size-fits-all” treatment. That said, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the most effective treatment for the widest range of disorders. For example, therapist-led (as opposed to self-administered) CBT has been shown to be effective for both bulimia nervosa (BN) and consequential depressive symptoms (Linardon et al., 2017).

CBT has also been shown to be effective (by itself or in concert with other treatments) for anxiety, general depressive symptoms, depressive symptoms in insomniac patients, tinnitus distress, and smoking cessation (Dragioti et al., 2017).

Functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP, a subset of CBT) has also been shown to be effective for decreasing interpersonal difficulty in nursing home residents (Singh & O’Brien, 2017). As we saw above, other adaptations of CBT (such as DBT and cognitive hypnotherapy) have also gained acceptance, showing its versatility as well as the variety of disorders it can be useful for.

All of that said, it can be tempting to think that CBT is easily the best treatment for most disorders since it has been shown to be useful for such a wide variety of disorders.

There has been a recent pushback on the efficacy of CBT, though, as some researchers argue that many papers compare CBT to being on a waiting list or no treatment (as opposed to the typical treatment for the disorder in question) and that some psychologists allow their own “allegiance” to CBT to bias their study of its effectiveness (Leichsenring & Steinert, 2017).

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Other recent research has challenged the supposed superiority of CBT for certain disorders, such as one paper showing that psychodynamic therapy is at least as effective for treating MDD as CBT is (Driessen et al., 2017). This shows the importance of challenging conventional wisdom in psychology research, so that knowledge is driven by empirical research findings rather than popular consensus.

With those criticisms acknowledged, CBT is still a very useful treatment for a variety of disorders and is a crucial part of psychotherapy.

While it may not always be the best treatment option for every case, its versatility makes it an important treatment plan for any psychotherapist to be well-acquainted with. For an in-depth look at CBT, consult this website from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

A Take-Home Message

Psychotherapy comes in many different forms and can be used to treat many different disorders, but at the end of the day, it is a personalized process that requires a psychotherapist who is keenly aware of their client’s personal needs. For example, while CBT is an effective treatment for a variety of disorders, it may require adaptation (such as in the cases of DBT and CH) to best help a client, and in other cases, it may not even be the best treatment plan available.

Aside from specific treatment plans, some psychotherapy sessions require feedback from the client and adaptability from the psychotherapist to be maximally effective.

In other words, while the goal of many psychotherapy treatments is to get the client to challenge their own thoughts and assumptions, psychotherapists would also do well to interrogate their own beliefs rather than accept them as fact.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

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  • American Art Therapy Association. (u.d.). About Art Therapy. Retrieved from https://arttherapy.org/about-art-therapy/.
  • Belser, A.B., Agin-Liebes, G., Swift, T.C., Terrana, S., Devenot, N., Friedman, H.L., Guss, J., Bossis, A., Ross, S. (2017). Patient Experiences of Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(4), 354-388.
  • Bressi, C., Fronza, S., Minacapelli, E., Nocito, E.P., Dipasquale, E., Magri, L., Lionetti, F., Barone, L. (2017). Short-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy with Mentalization-Based Techniques in Major Depressive Disorder patients: Relationship among alexithymia, reflective functioning, and outcome variables – A Pilot study. Psychology and Psychotherapy-Theory Research and Practice, 90(3), 299-313.
  • Call, D., Miron, L., Orcutt, H. (2014). Effectiveness of Brief Mindfulness Techniques in Reducing Symptoms of Anxiety and Stress. Mindfulness, 5(6), 658-668.
  • Dowd, E.T. (2016). Resistance and the Wounded Self: Self-Protection in Service of the Ego. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 59(1), 100-113.
  • Dragioti, E., Karathanos, V., Gerdle, B., Evangelou, E. (2017). Does psychotherapy work? An umbrella review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 136(3), 236-246.
  • Driessen, E., Van, H. L., Peen, J., Don, F. J., Twisk, J. W. R., Cuijpers, P., Dekker, J. J. M. (2017). Cognitive-Behavioral Versus Psychodynamic Therapy for Major Depression: Secondary Outcomes of a Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85(7), 653-663.
  • Esmiol-Wilson, E., Partridgem R., Brandon, M., Kollar, S., Benning-Cho, S. (2017). From Resistance to Buy-In: Experiences of Clinicians in Training Using Feedback-Informed Treatment. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy – Innovations in Clinical and Educational Interventions, 16(1), 20-41.
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What are the techniques of psychotherapy? ›

Approaches to psychotherapy fall into five broad categories:
  • Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. ...
  • Behavior therapy. ...
  • Cognitive therapy. ...
  • Humanistic therapy. ...
  • Integrative or holistic therapy.

What is psychotherapy According to APA? ›

Psychotherapy involves communication between patients and therapists that is intended to help people: Find relief from emotional distress, as in becoming less anxious, fearful or depressed.

What are the 5 main goals of psychotherapy? ›

Goals of Psychotherapy
  • To know yourself better.
  • Alleviate emotional pain or confusion.
  • Assist you in developing a more complete understanding of your psychological issues.
  • Establish more effective coping mechanisms.
  • Foster a more accurate understanding of your past and what you want for your future.

What are the 4 major approaches to psychotherapy? ›

To help you get familiar with the different therapeutic approaches, here's a quick guide to four of the most widely-practiced forms.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Humanistic/Experiential Therapy.

What is psychotherapy in psychology PDF? ›

Psychotherapy is a method of treatment that uses a variety of skills based on theoretical knowledge to help the patient, his well-being and mental health. Medicine and psychotherapy can complement each other effectively.

How many types of psychotherapy are there? ›

There are five types of psychotherapy, including: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT operates under three basic principles that address the way a person thinks, their patterns of behavior, and how they cope with trauma or psychological problems.

Who is the father of psychotherapy? ›

The Viennese physician Josef Breuer (1842-1925) has a unique and prominent place in the history of psychotherapy.

What is the main goal of psychotherapy? ›

In summary, the goal of psychotherapy is to facilitate positive change in clients seeking better emotional and social functioning to improve their feelings of satisfaction and the overall quality of their lives.

What is the importance of psychotherapy? ›

Psychotherapy helps you develop problem-solving skills, build your confidence, and become more self-aware. This encourages you to take personal responsibility for your actions and learn to manage your mental health issues, now and for the rest of your life.

What are the stages of psychotherapy? ›

ABSTRACT - The unfolding of the psychotherapeutic relationship is considered to proceed in four main stages: Commitment, Process, Change and Termination. Each stage has its own tasks and sub-stages, and has to be reasonably completed before transition to the next can take place.

What is psychotherapy in simple terms? ›

Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

What is the nature of psychotherapy? ›

Psychotherapy is a voluntary relationship between the one seeking treatment or the client and the one who treats or the therapist. The purpose of the relationship is to help the client to solve the psychological problems being faced by her or him.

What is the most effective form of psychotherapy? ›

The most robustly studied, best-understood, and most-used is cognitive behavioral therapy. Other effective therapies include light therapy, hypnosis, and mindfulness-based treatments, among others.

What are behavior techniques? ›

Behavioral techniques are a core component of many evidence-based psychotherapies, including Prolonged Exposure, CBT for Insomnia, and CBT for Depression, just to name a few. These techniques have in common a focus on changing behaviors to improve mood and overall functioning.

The theory behind REBT and techniques and interventions to practice.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is based on the idea that it is not the things that happen to us that cause our problems; it is our thoughts and thinking patterns that lead to the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues that challenge us (Dryden, David, & Ellis, 2010).. REBT aims to help clients reduce these irrational beliefs and replace them with rational beliefs.. Problem-solving techniques Cognitive restructuring techniques Coping techniques (Raypole, 2018). In the end, there were tons of questions from management that I didn’t anticipate, and that makes me feel like I missed the mark on the whole presentation.. At this point, the therapist will likely help the client come up with some statements based on their irrational belief that they must be perfect for every presentation.. Question: Will REBT keep me from feeling emotions?. Catastrophizing involves “worst-case” thinking and can be an extremely common cognitive distortion.. Although this technique can be highly effective for irrational beliefs, it will not always work for your deepest or long-held beliefs.. Check out these three worksheets on REBT techniques below.. Once the user has identified a situation, they are instructed to identify their personal signs of fear or symptoms of their experience with fear.. If this person doesn’t like me, then other people must feel the same way.. ), The Wiley handbook of cognitive behavioral therapy (pp.. Techniques for disputing irrational beliefs.

My favourite approaches from cognitive behavioural therapy

By intentionally ‘trying out’ specific ways of thinking and observing the outcome behaviours, clients gain a deeper awareness of the patterns of thinking that may be holding them back from reaching their goals.. Exposure is a powerful technique used to help clients face their fears or phobias in a controlled way.. In this technique, the therapist helps the client make a list of feared objects or situations.. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques give the client a new and different way to respond to distressing situations.. Not only does this technique help the client to recognize their progress, it also strengthens their ability to identify underlying positive beliefs and qualities when doing their core beliefs work in therapy.

Breathwork is any number of breathing practices and breath techniques performed to improve physical or mental well-being. Here are examples of breathwork methods, exercises, and things to look out for when you practice.

Overall, it’s thought to bring about improvements in emotional state and to decrease levels of stress in otherwise healthy people.. People have practiced breathwork to:. Here are a few types of breathing exercises that are used in various practices.. Afterwards you might be guided to draw a mandala and have a discussion about your experience with the group.. The technique is also known as Conscious Energy Breathing (CEB).. You will use circular breathing as you’re guided through the session.. The session will end with a time for sharing.. While there are many benefits to breathwork therapy there are certain risks to the technique of which you should be aware.


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