Do you need therapy? Here’s how to find a type to suit you

From managing stress to mental and chronic health problems – even improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome – here’s how psychotherapy can help.

Psychotherapy is much more than a one-size-fits-all kind of therapy. 

By some counts there are more than 400 varieties to choose from.

Commonly used to help manage mental health conditions, psychotherapy can also be used to cope with the likes of stress and the impact of illness, trauma or grief. 

Research shows three out of four people who undertake psychotherapy experience some benefit, but which type does what?

Common types of psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy

CBT helps people identify unhelpful or unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviours, encouraging more accurate, helpful thoughts and behaviours, as replacements. 

CBT has been shown to help treat anxiety and depression, trauma-related disorders and eating disorders, as well as stress, insomnia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  

By positively influencing the gut-brain axis, a recent study shows it may even reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. 

“This work demonstrates that teaching people how to think more flexibly in specific situations can reduce the physical tension and stress that can disrupt brain-gut interactions and crank up symptoms,” the study’s co-senior author, Dr Jeffrey Lackner, says.

Head to Health features a variety of evidence-based, online CBT programs. 

Family therapy

This is conducted with families to facilitate the expression of difficult thoughts and emotions, to help family members understand each other. 

The aim is to improve family relationships and dynamics. 

Here’s where to find a registered family therapist near you. 

Interpersonal therapy

This therapy helps people deal more effectively with others, as well as situations they find difficult. 

It can help people discover healthy ways to express emotions and improve communication, and is often used to help treat depression. 

Acceptance and commitment therapy

This helps people apply mindfulness and acceptance in their responses to experiences beyond their control, rather than fighting them. 

It can help people living with chronic pain, mild depression and OCD and may also improve quality of life for people with chronic muscle disorders. 

In a recent Queen’s University Belfast study, people with muscular dystrophy who received ACT reported improvements in independence, body image and mood.

“We chose ACT partly because it includes the idea that it is OK and normal to have emotional reactions to the very real challenges presented by MD, but can also help people see ways to live well within this space,” says study author Dr Chris Graham.

“In my experience, where ACT is effective for someone living with a condition like MD, we tend to see them spending more of their valuable time and energy on activities that are life-enriching, even though some difficult emotions might still remain a part of the picture.”

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

This focuses on increasing awareness of how and when distressing thoughts and feelings originated, to understand how past events are impacting the present. 

As well as improving self-awareness, it works to change well-established patterns, helping people feel more able to take charge of their life. 

It is commonly used to treat mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. 

Which psychotherapy is best?

If you are interested in receiving psychotherapy, the type that suits you best will depend on a range of factors, including what you’d like help with, with research showing people who are matched with a therapist with a strong track record of treating their primary concern typically enjoy better results. 

The best place to start is visiting your GP for a referral. 

You may also be eligible for a mental health treatment plan, which provides Medicare rebates for 10 psychological appointments each year. 

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Written by Karen Fittall.