As you learned in a previous lesson, therapy is generally considered to be the most recognized of the psychological professions; over half of psychologists are engaged in some form of psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is any psychological technique that's used to facilitate positive changes in a person's personality, behavior, or adjustment.
In other words, it's the treatment of some psychological problem. The goal of psychotherapy is to improve the mental health of its patients.
As you've probably seen, there are different professions in psychotherapy; namely, there are psychologists and psychiatrists.
The difference between those two professions is that a psychiatrist is a medical professional, whereas a psychologist is engaged specifically in psychology. A psychiatrist can prescribe drugs, although some psychologists in different states are able to do that as well.
There are different levels of therapy within psychotherapy as well. There is clinical psychology, which tends to refer to the treatment of severe mental disorders, whereas the treatment for more everyday problems, such as depression or anxiety occurring on a smaller level, might simply be referred to as counseling.
However, it's important to note, though, that all of these different levels fall under the umbrella category of psychotherapy.
When engaging in the process of psychotherapy, a psychologist or psychiatrist will generally start by having a patient take a series of tests. This series can involve written inventories, like a personality inventory that asks the patient to go through and check either yes or no, or how much or to what degree he or she feels a certain way.
There might be an oral test, which could involve the patient giving a family medical history, or even pictorial tests, such as a thematic aptitude test or a Rorschach test, which you may have heard of. The Rorschach test is also called an inkblot test, and it involves a person talking about what he or she sees within a somewhat ambiguous picture.
Once these tests are done, the person engages in the actual psychotherapy. There are different schools of thought around this process, such as psychoanalytical psychotherapy, and humanist or cognitive behavioral therapy, which will be covered in some detail later on in future lessons.
The important thing to remember is that in all of these different forms of psychotherapy, the main way that people are treated is through conversation.
Patients speak with their therapists in a back-and-forth, question-and-answer format. Because conversation is at the heart of psychotherapy, it's important to establish a strong relationship between the therapist and the patient. In other words, the patient really has to trust his or her therapist in order to be able to discuss things with that person.
This is called a therapeutic alliance, or the relationship between a therapist and client in which they can both work together to affect some positive change--regarding either mental process or behaviors--in the client. There are certain aspects of this therapeutic alliance that make it unique from other types of relationships that a person has.
To be effective, psychotherapy also relies on a concept referred to as the therapy placebo effect. This is something that you might have heard of before, and it will definitely be discussed in more detail in a later lesson on experimental psychology.
For now, the important thing to know is that the therapy placebo effect is a change in a condition or a behavior that's due to the patient's expectation that the treatment will have an effect, even though that treatment might not actually have any effect.
EXAMPLEAs you will hear in the experimental context, the placebo effect is when you give somebody a sugar pill, and say that it's actually medicine that will make him or her better.
If the placebo effect works, the person will still get better because he or she expects to when taking the medicine. In other words, the effect is essentially psychological in its basis.
A therapist may use certain techniques in psychotherapy, but what underlies all of them is this expectation that the patient will get better. The saying that "it's all in your head" is, in fact, the point of this area of psychology.
Establishing this expectation that the patient is going to get better will again fall back on the therapeutic alliance; there needs to be the feeling that the psychotherapist is competent and also somebody that cares for and wants to cure the patient.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Erick Taggart.