Psychotherapy is an interactive process between a person and a qualified mental health professional. Its purpose is to explore thoughts, feelings, and behavior to solve problems or achieve higher levels of functioning.

Psychotherapists are bound by professional and legal standards of ethics. These standards of ethics include protecting the confidentiality of information provided by clients or patients, not engaging in inappropriate behavior with a client or patient, and protecting the safety of children by reporting suspected child abuse to legal authorities.

People who've been trained in psychotherapy include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family counselors, and some pastoral counselors. A psychiatrist is a board-certified physician (M.D. or D.O.) with a 4-year residency in psychiatry. Unlike other psychotherapists, psychiatrists can prescribe medications. Clinical psychologists have at least a master's degree and usually a doctoral degree. They are licensed by the state in which they practice. Clinical social workers, as well as marriage and family therapists/counselors, have at least a master's degree and are licensed by the state. Some states have other designations for licensing purposes (e.g., mental health counselor or clinical professional counselor). In all cases, a license requires a number of hours of supervised experience beyond the professional degree, the passing of an exam, and periodic continuing education courses.

Pastoral counselors may have minimal to extensive training in psychotherapy. They may or may not be licensed by the state and practice under the auspices of being clergy.

Psychotherapists may have extensive training in one or multiple types of psychotherapy. They may also specialize in working with a certain age group (children, adults, elderly) or with people with a certain type of problem (e.g., mental illness, coping with medical illness, marital and family relations, domestic violence or abuse, educational functioning, substance abuse).

People use this for...

Psychotherapy has been used for alcoholism, alexithymia, Alzheimer's disease, amnesia, anorexia nervosa, antisocial behavior, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety, asthma, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), atopic dermatitis, autism, bipolar disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, bulimia, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cognitive enhancement, cognitive impairment, complex regional pain syndrome, conversion disorder (functional neurologic symptom disorder), coronary heart disease, Crohn's disease, delirium, dementia, depersonalization disorder, depression, diabetes, disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED), dissociative identity disorder (DID), duodenal ulcer, dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, encopresis, episodic control disorder, erectile dysfunction, exhibitionism, factitious disorder, fear, fetishism, gambling, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), HIV/AIDS, hypertension, hysteria, hypochondriasis, impulse control disorder, infertility, insomnia and other sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), kleptomania, learning disabilities, malingering, mania, narcissistic personality disorder, narcolepsy, nocturnal enuresis, obsession, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), pain, panic disorder, paranoia, paranoid personality disorder, paraphilias, pedophilia, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premature ejaculation, promiscuity, psoriasis, psychological well-being, reactive attachment disorder, relationship problems, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sexual dysfunction, smoking cessation, somatization disorder, somatoform disorder, stress, stress response syndrome, substance-induced mood disorder, substance-induced psychotic disorder, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), tantrums, Tourette's syndrome, trauma, trichotillomania, urogenitary disorders, weight loss.

Pregnancy And Lactation: Insufficient reliable information available; however, there is no reason to suspect safety concerns when used appropriately.


Depression. Clinical research shows that psychotherapy helps treat depression and reduce the risk of depression onset in various patients. Post-partum depression, dysthymia, major depression, and depression in adolescents, adults, and elderly have been alleviated with psychotherapy. Also, some clinical research suggests that psychotherapy may be effective for reducing repeated attempts at suicide and suicidal thoughts. Preliminary clinical research also suggests that psychotherapy, including group therapy and individual cognitive-behavioral therapy, may reduce major depression in multiple sclerosis patients and improve quality of life. Other preliminary clinical research suggests that individual and group psychotherapy may decrease depression associated with a kidney transplant, and that individual therapy may be more effective than group therapy.


Alcoholism. Preliminary research suggests that psychotherapy, or a combination of psychotherapy and prescription medication, may help alcohol abuse patients prevent relapse, overcome withdrawal symptoms, and deal with underlying problems, depression, or anxiety.

Alexithymia. Some research suggests that educational sessions and group psychotherapy may decrease alexithymia, or the inability to express one's feelings.

Alzheimer's disease. Preliminary clinical research suggests brief psychotherapeutic approaches do not help improve cognitive function and overall well-being in Alzheimer's disease patients.

Anorexia nervosa. Clinical research suggests that psychotherapy may improve outcomes, prevent relapses, improve sexual and social adjustment, and encourage weight gain in patients with anorexia nervosa.

Anxiety. Some research suggests that psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy may help with anxiety in children. Other research shows that psychotherapy may decrease anxiety and depression in patients with COPD.

Asthma. Some clinical research suggests that family psychotherapy may slightly improve wheezing and thoracic gas volume for children with asthma.

Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some clinical research suggests that psychotherapy may not improve parenting, enhance academic achievement, or improve emotional adjustment for children ages 7-9 with ADHD. It is unclear whether psychotherapy will reduce the use of stimulants, such as methylphenidate, in these children. More studies are needed in this area.

Bipolar disorder. Some clinical research shows that psychotherapy as an adjunct to prescription medication may help patients be adherent, prevent relapses, and reduce suicidal behavior.

Borderline personality disorder. Preliminary clinical research suggests that psychotherapy for at least one year may help patients with borderline personality disorders. Both schema-focused therapy and transference-focused psychotherapy may be helpful psychotherapy techniques.

Bulimia. Some research suggests that psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, may help bulimics reduce binge eating, purging and relapse, and improve dietary restraint and attitudes towards body shape and weight.

Cancer. Some clinical research suggests that psychotherapy can enhance cancer patients' quality of life by reducing emotional distress and aiding in coping with the stresses and challenges of cancer. Therapy may be supportive-expressive therapy, cognitive therapy, or group therapy. Studies conflict on whether therapy improves self-esteem, death, anxiety, self-satisfaction, etc.

Cognitive enhancement. Preliminary clinical research suggests that child psychotherapy may improve children's language proficiencies. Individual therapy may be more successful than group therapy.

Cognitive impairment. Preliminary clinical research suggests that cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and cognitive remediation may lessen psychological distress and improve cognitive functioning among patients with traumatic brain injury.

Conversion disorder (functional neurologic symptom disorder). Some clinical research suggests that hypnosis-based psychotherapy may improve the behavioral symptoms of patients with conversion disorder, motor type.

Crohn's disease. Preliminary clinical research suggests psychotherapy may not improve the course of Crohn's disease but may reduce the number of operations and relapses required.

Diabetes. Preliminary clinical research suggests psychotherapy may improve blood sugar control in teens and adults with poorly-controlled type I or II diabetes, especially if blood sugar problems are related to depression.

Duodenal ulcer. Preliminary clinical research suggests that short-term cognitive psychotherapy does not reduce the recurrence of duodenal ulcers.

Dyspepsia. Preliminary clinical research suggests that psychodynamic-interpersonal psychotherapy therapy or cognitive psychotherapy may improve dyspepsia symptoms, both short- and long-term, in patients with mild to moderate dyspepsia.

Erectile dysfunction (ED). Preliminary clinical research suggests that individual, couples, or group psychotherapy may be helpful for men with erectile dysfunction.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Clinical research suggests that psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, may decrease the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

HIV/AIDS. Preliminary clinical research suggests psychotherapy may reduce depression and substance abuse in HIV-positive patients. Other clinical research suggests that psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavior therapy, may improve pain-related functioning in people with HIV-related peripheral neuropathic pain.

Infertility. Preliminary clinical research suggests group, couples, and individual psychotherapy may reduce depression and anxiety associated with infertility but may not affect fertility rates.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Preliminary clinical research suggests that psychotherapy may increase IBS patients' tolerance to rectal distension, improve health-related quality of life, and reduce stomach pain and diarrhea.

Nocturnal enuresis. Preliminary clinical research suggests that psychotherapy may be more effective than either a bedwetting alarm or rewards for bedwetting in children. In another study, psychotherapy and a placebo was just as effective as psychotherapy combined with piracetam and diphenylhydantoin, suggesting that psychotherapy may be used before drugs.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Research suggests that behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapy, used along with prescription medications, may improve symptoms in patients with OCD.

Pain. Preliminary clinical research suggests psychotherapy may reduce pain, including chronic pain, low back pain, and pain associated with pelvic congestion.

Panic disorder. Some clinical research suggests that psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, may help patients with panic disorder.

Phobias. Preliminary clinical research suggests cognitive behavioral therapy, especially exposure-based therapies, are the most beneficial for phobic disorders.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some clinical research suggests that cognitive behavior therapy may help patients with PTSD, including those who have this condition due to adult or child sexual abuse.

Psychological well-being. Preliminary clinical research suggests psychotherapy may help patients deal with mourning and mental health issues associated with major grief.

Psychosomatic disorder. Preliminary clinical research suggests that short-term psychotherapy for psychosomatic conditions may less effective than long-term psychotherapy.

Rheumatoid arthritis. Some clinical research suggests group therapy may decrease pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis and depression. Individual therapy coupled with anti-depressants may be even more effective.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Preliminary clinical research suggests psychotherapy may help alleviate effects of SAD.

Smoking cessation. Preliminary clinical research suggests that group psychotherapy may be more effective than self-help for quitting smoking.

Stress response syndrome. Some research suggests that psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy may reduce depression associated with stress response syndrome.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Preliminary clinical research suggests that brief supportive-expressive group psychotherapy may reduce psychological distress and medical symptoms and improve quality of life of women with SLE.

Tourette's syndrome. Preliminary clinical research suggests that supportive psychotherapy may or may not reduce the motor and vocal tics associated with Tourette's syndrome.

Urinary disorders. Preliminary clinical research suggests that people with detrusor instability or sensory urgency may benefit from psychotherapy and reduce urgency, incontinence, and nighttime urination, but not overall frequency.

Weight loss. Clinical research indicates that people who are overweight or obese may benefit from behavioral and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy in combination with diet and exercise. More evidence is needed to rate psychotherapy for these uses.

Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

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