The term psychotherapy encompasses many different types and styles of therapy. The most broad distinction is between psychodynamic psychotherapy and behavioral therapy.
In psychodynamic psychotherapy, we search for the underlying cause of a person’s symptoms. It could be repressed issues from childhood experiences or other traumatic or difficult experiences where the person learned to cope in a certain way. The way the person coped in response to troubling times in the past may have been very appropriate, but if the person continues to use those same coping mechanisms in the present, they might not be so adaptive and may be causing trouble.
If we can elucidate those patterns and understand their meaning, then we can ask if they need to be changed and come up with better ways of dealing with current stressors.
In behavioral therapy we are not so concerned with the cause of symptoms, we just want to get rid of them. So, we focus on how to deal with the here and now. We learn how to deal with anxiety. The idea is to look at your current thought patterns which may be telling you things that can cause anxiety and depression. By identifying these thoughts and
challenging them, we change the thoughts and therefore the resulting emotions are changed, also. We don’t want to avoid the source of the anxiety but to expose ourselves to it. This will increase the anxiety in the beginning, but with repeated exposure, you will be desensitized from the anxiety response and the anxiety will resolve.
Behavioral therapy usually works best when there are obvious things that make us depressed or anxious. For example, if one is afraid to go over bridges, behavioral therapy would be the treatment of choice.
Psychodynamic therapy would be more indicated for those who have trouble in social situations. For example, a person with many failed marriages, or who can never get along with people at work. Here it may be useful to find underlying causes. Were there experiences in the past that led to current difficulties?
Practically, we often use aspects of both types of therapy at the same time. Different types often work better in certain situations, but most experts agree that the ability of the therapist to demonstrate genuine empathy is more important to outcomes than the type of therapy being used.
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