Mental Health Therapy

Mental health therapy encompasses a range of treatment options and techniques with the goal of helping people improve their ability to cope and live with various mental illnesses and disorders. It is often called psychotherapy or talk therapy.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Is Mental Health Therapy?

Mental health therapy includes a variety of treatment methods for many emotional and behavioral issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, addictions and other conditions.

Therapy usually takes the form of one-on-one conversations or group sessions with a trained mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Medication is not always part of the process, but it can be, depending on the disorder.

What Can Mental Health Therapy Treat?

Mental health therapy treats a variety of behavioral, emotional and psychological conditions. For some diagnoses, therapy alone is enough. For others, doctors prescribe a combination of therapy and medication.

Mental health disorders include:
Anxiety Disorders:
Excessive worry, panic attacks and extreme discomfort in social situations are symptoms of anxiety disorders. Therapists sometimes recommend medication to aid in treatment.
Bipolar Disorder:
Those with bipolar disorder can experience a wide range of emotions, from extreme happiness to profound sadness and depression. This condition can lead to an increased risk of suicide.
About 280 million people worldwide live with depression, which manifests in multiple ways, including insomnia, loss of appetite and general malaise. Many treatments are available.
Disruptive Behavior Disorders:
There are two disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders: conduct-dissocial disorder (conduct disorder) and oppositional defiant disorder. Symptoms include consistently inappropriate or defiant behaviors that violate social norms and the personal rights and space of other people. Categorizing this behavior as a mental health disorder is still a source of debate among many practitioners.
Eating Disorders:
Bulimia and anorexia nervosa are two of the more common eating disorders, which affect 14 million people. This includes nearly 3 million children and adolescents. These disorders are often associated with premature death from resulting medical conditions or suicide.
Neurodevelopmental Disorders:
Examples of these are autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Medication is often part of treatment.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
This is a persistent condition characterized by uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors that can severely disrupt one’s health and social functioning.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop following acute or chronic exposure to traumatic events, including combat, accidents or violence. PTSD can produce a number of symptoms that can impair social and cognitive functioning.
Symptoms may include social, emotional, motor and cognitive impairment and, in more severe cases, delusions and hallucinations. Schizophrenia lowers life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, most often as a result of substance abuse, suicide, heart disease or lung cancer. It may affect as many as 1 in 300 people worldwide.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 8 people (980 million) across the globe live with a mental health disorder. Although effective treatments exist for many conditions, some patients will have difficulty finding one that works. Many other patients, because of lack of health care access, will receive no treatment at all.


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How Does Therapy Benefit Mental Health?

Although the benefits of mental health therapy will vary by person and diagnosis, most forms of therapy work by helping the patient understand their condition and develop effective strategies to deal with it.

Some coping techniques include socializing with others instead of isolating, carving out time for relaxing activities, and spending time with others who have similar issues, such as in support groups. Young adults and adolescents who are prone to self-harming behavior can benefit by spending time with people who are going through some of the same experiences they are.

Types of Mental Health Therapy

Not all types of mental health therapy work for every person and every illness. For some people, multiple one-on-one sessions with a single therapist is the answer. Others reap more benefits from group therapy or couples therapy. And there are other types of therapy to choose from.

Behavioral therapy and cognitive behavior therapy are among the most prevalent forms of treatment, as is psychodynamic therapy. Although their approaches are different, these three types are all ways to combat depression and anxiety.

Dialectical behavior therapy is an effective treatment for PTSD, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder and substance abuse issues. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is another way to address trauma-based disorders.

Other types of treatment include exposure therapy, mentalization therapy and interpersonal therapy.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, online therapy, both one-on-one, in groups or as part of family therapy, has grown in popularity. The key is to find a therapist who connects with you and provides quality insights and help.

How to Choose the Best Mental Health Therapy

There’s no one way to find a therapist. A good place to start is with a primary care physician or, for children, a pediatrician. Local hospitals and clinics are more cognizant of mental health than ever before, and most have counselors on staff or a list of local therapists who can help. Middle schools, high schools and colleges also generally have mental health professionals on staff.

You can also search online for help through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Mental Health America.

Additional Mental Health Treatments

Therapy is not always the only treatment. Some mental health issues react better to medication. And sometimes people with serious mental health conditions need hospitalization to get healthy.

Psychiatrists can write prescriptions for their patients, as can psychiatric pharmacists, advance-practice pharmacists who specialize in mental health care. Psychologists, counselors, therapists and social workers cannot prescribe medication.

Besides one-on-one talk therapy, people working through mental health issues may respond well to group therapy and support groups. With this therapy, psychologists lead group sessions in a professional setting for five to 15 people who have similar personal experiences.

Support groups such as 12-step groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and others) have less structure but can assist people who have gone through many of the same life situations. The help comes from group members realizing that their problems are not unique, that others have had them too, and that there is a path toward better health.


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Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.