What Is Psychotherapy?

"The key to finding a good psychotherapist is to look for an individual who is caring, credible and giving."

Revised:  May 22, 2010


The word "psychotherapy" is misused and misunderstood by most people. To make matters worse, untrained and unqualified people are increasingly offering and charging large sums of money claiming to provide counseling, therapy or some form of analysis. The public who use these services can end up confused, discouraged and feeling misled. Many conclude that psychotherapy doesn't work. But in reality, they never got real help to begin with.

There are nearly two hundred forms and techniques used in psychotherapy. These techniques, in the hands of a qualified, ethical and caring person, can be tremendously helpful. The key to finding a good psychotherapist is to look for an individual who is caring, credible and giving. That means they need to be be accessible and available. It is the relationship that heals and the techniques are not helpful if a therapist is unkind and uncaring.

Presentation on the Factors that Create Change in People
(based on 40 years of research)

There are four factor that create and bring about change in people. The following is a presentation with diagrams and descriptions of these factors

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is an activity that involves the examination of behavior and it requires work to solve problems. A behavior is anything we do. It can be any action, what you are thinking, what you say, a memory, a sensation or an emotion. Work is the redirection of anything we do that requires some degree of effort. This includes changing any behavior or the continuance of a behavior against other tendencies, habits or usual actions. 

Psychotherapy and counseling have a great deal in common, but counseling is not psychotherapy. Counseling usually results in a realization, a plan or a decision. A therapist provides or helps you create an "environment filled with activities" that bring about change almost like physical exercise.

What are the Underlying Principles Used in Psychotherapy? 

There are hundreds of methods used to achieve the goals of psychotherapy. These methods are based on observation, research and theories that explain, predict or influence a change in our behavior. There are only a few underlying principles in psychotherapy. 

  • New awareness and insight changes our experience, response tendencies and choices.

  • Practicing new behaviors will change other behaviors.

  • New experiences can motivate us to take action, change and grow.

  • Adults, and especially children, tend to adopt behaviors of the people they bond with.

  • Advice, directions and techniques are not nearly as important as the therapeutic relationship and the resources that the person brings into therapy (See factors that create change)

  • Hope, the desire to change and the expectation that change will happen are essential but not that powerful alone.

What are the Types of Psychotherapy?

  • Individual Therapy

  • Group Therapy

  • Family Therapy

  • Experiential Therapy

  • Couples Therapy

How do Therapists Approach Psychotherapy?

  • Examination of the past and early childhood experience.

  • Changing present behavior in a strategic manner.

  • Identifying and expressing your potential, your strengths and virtues.

  • Creating new experiences that change behavior, response tendencies and choices.

Problems That Respond Well to Psychotherapy

  • Escape and Avoidance. Most of the problems faced in psychotherapy are the result of an unpleasant experience that causes people to change their behavior in order to escape or avoid that experience or the memory of that experience. The changes that occur in our behavior over time can be limiting and cause problems. Living to avoid and escape is not the same as living, loving and learning.

  • Problem Behavior That Has a "Payoff". While most behavioral problems are unpleasant or ineffective, they may have a payoff (or benefit). The person may not recognize the payoff and they may honestly deny there is a payoff. Payoffs might include attention, extra care, emotional support or avoidance of something unpleasant. The payoff may not be noticeable or easily understood by family, friends and others. 

  • Lack of Awareness or Insight. Many problems are the result of an ability to recognize the patterns, choices and the consequences of our behavior. In order to solve a problem, it must be understood in a way that creates a solution or allows us to change our behavior. We cannot make a choice unless we understand that there is a choice, when there is a choice and what choice to make.

  • Misunderstanding Human Differences. Many people do not recognize or fully appreciate the differences that exist between men and women as well as individuals and groups of individuals. These differences can lead to the wrong assumptions and unrealistic expectations. Decisions and actions that are then taken based on these false assumptions and unrealistic expectation can cause problems. Learning to understand, respect and respond appropriately in the case of human differences is a principle solution to human suffering.

  • Errors in Thinking. What we experience and the conclusions we make, can affect our choices, our behavior and how we respond in the future. Careful examination and correction of the way in which we think and the conclusion we make can be helpful. There are many actions that we take that are based on beliefs, assumption and thought processes that we have not examined and do not recognize.

  • Failure to Express our Identity or Potential. We are each born with a potential waiting to unfold, be experienced and to be expressed. The inability to recognize and express our potential can cause problems and especially symptoms of depression. We each have an intuitive recognition of when we are or are not using our abilities and potential. This applies to all aspect of our potential behavior. For example, most of us recognize that some children love to run, talk, create or explore the world. They have preferences and gifts. Problems surface when our deepest potentials are ignored, go unrecognized or are suppressed.


copyright 2002 to 2010, Michael G. Conner