Psychotherapy, also called “therapy”, is a non-medical treatment in which the counsellor or psychotherapist develops an interpersonal relationship with the client based on trust in order to help him/her work through mental, emotional, or behavioural issues.

It is commonly referred to as counselling or “talk therapy” because the counsellor assists the client in understanding his/her problems by talking them out in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.

It is also through this dialogue that the therapist helps the individual find ways of changing his/her behavioural and thought patterns so that he/she can manage the conflict, fear, anxiety, depression, or addiction that is hampering him/her from living a full, satisfying life.

In addition to dialogue, the counsellor or therapist may use a variety of other communication techniques, each of which has its own particular aim, duration, and intensity based on a specific psychological theory.

Counselling is often considered working with specific issues and finding solutions and resolution to the client’s problems.

Psychotherapy is generally considered working with a psychotherapist to bring about deeper change in the client that will be enduring.

There are many different approaches or therapies that a counsellor can use to help a person resolve his/her issues.  Any or all of them may be effective, depending on their suitability for the individual’s unique personality and circumstances.  Sometimes a counsellor may find it appropriate to integrate or blend specific types of techniques.  At other times, a counsellor may use an eclectic approach in which he/she chooses elements from different therapies and combines them in the treatment method used.  What makes integrated therapy different from the eclectic method is that the first type uses a blend of theories in their entirety while the second approach uses only parts of the theories.

Psychological therapy generally falls into three basic categories:  cognitive and behavioural therapies, psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies, and humanistic therapies.

Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies are essentially based on the way an individual thinks – thus the term, “cognitive” – and behaves. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works on the theory that it is possible to recondition a person’s negative or self-defeating thought and behavioural patterns by learning new ways of thinking and behaving that will have a positive effect on the patient’s emotional and mental state.

Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Therapies are based on the theory that the unconscious thoughts and perceptions which a person develops throughout his/her childhood affect his/her current views and behaviour.  Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy helps a patient gain self-awareness of how his/her past experiences affect his/her present life.

Humanistic Therapies focus on helping a person grow emotionally and develop a sense of responsibility for the direction his/her life takes.  The humanistic therapy approach helps the individual recognise his/her strengths and realise his/her power to change the present circumstances by creating new ones through the choices he/she makes from that point on.

Additional Therapies: There are other therapies a counsellor may use in addition to these three basic types.  These include art therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, massage therapy, and hypnotherapy for issues that generally involve the client’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.  In cases involving deep psychological damage such as assault, rape, road accidents, natural disasters, or wartime trauma, a more intensive therapy called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) may be employed.

Interpersonal or relationship issues call for relationship counselling since there is another party or other parties involved.  Family, marriage and divorce counselling all fall into this type of counselling.  One type of therapy found to be effective in treating deep-seated family conflicts is family/systemic therapy.  Whether or not the parties are related by blood, this therapy fosters positive changes in the system of interaction among the persons involved in a family or a similar form of close relationship.

In relationship counselling, a counsellor does not take sides or make judgments about who is right or wrong.  Furthermore, a relationship counsellor does not persuade or encourage the parties to either stay together or separate.  The counsellor’s job is to help the parties become aware of how their perceptions and behaviour affect their relationship, attain clear communication, manage their emotions and conflicts, recognise their options and the potential consequences of their choices, and ultimately arrive at their own decisions.  If the parties choose to separate, the counsellor helps them move on in a mutually beneficial way.  If the parties decide to stay together, the counsellor assists them in finding ways to strengthen and stabilise their relationship.

In any type of counselling, remember that it is vitally important to find a licensed counsellor or psychotherapist who is properly trained and can be trusted to maintain a professional relationship with his/her client.  A professional counsellor recognises the need to respect the client’s views and protect the confidentiality of the personal information that may be divulged.

The counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists listed on Australia Counselling in areas such as Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and country areas provide a range of counselling and psychotherapy services. Search the therapeutic approaches page to find an Australian counsellor that uses a therapy approach that fits for you.