What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy consists of a range of different procedures; as such, developing a definitive concept for the word is difficult. Various schools of thought exist on the different components of psychotherapy, and there is a great deal of controversy surrounding certain types of psychotherapy. Some people believe psychotherapy is helpful, while others are certain that psychotherapists are really snake oil salesmen. However, it is safe to conclude that psychotherapy is a distinct process between a therapist and patient that enables psychological problems to be dealt with through communication and education.[1]

Psychotherapy generally involves communication between a therapist and patient. Of course, it involves much more than talking about problems and patient history. Psychotherapy also involves the development of a professional relationship between the therapist and client. This relationship is based on the following principles:

  • Structure
  • Technique

The Nature of the Psychotherapeutic Relationship

The relationship between therapists and clients is intended to be a professional relationship. The purpose for the relationship is assisting the patient. The therapist is available to assist the patient and expects nothing in return with the exception of payment for services rendered.[2]

Therapeutic relationships differ from other relationships in several ways:

  • Therapists can be told certain things without fear of reprisal.
  • Patients can be honest with therapists without worrying about offending others.
  • When therapists inquire on a patient’s well-being, an honest answer is expected.

The relationship doesn’t hinge on social reciprocity and patients can be honest with therapists without adversely affecting others in their lives. This relationship is meant to encourage the patient to be honest and open about feelings, even if the feelings may be incorrect or inappropriate.

Therapists are expected to reveal very little about their own lives to patients. This allows patients to interact freely with therapists without adjusting how they really feel or how the might present themselves. Violating the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship can be harmful to patients; it is also not considered to be psychotherapy when this occurs.

The Nature of Communication in Psychotherapy

Therapists are trained to understand what clients say. They are trained to listen to content and tone. Therapists are also trained to listen to what clients don’t express. Therapists are trained to recognize body language and other nonverbal communication.

Therapists have experience with patients who have similar conditions and problems. This experience is valuable in treating patients with psychiatric illnesses. The experiences a therapist gains in psychotherapy can assist them in knowing what questions to ask and suggestions to make with patients. Psychotherapy is beneficial to the patient and assist therapists in learning about various conditions. As noted previously, therapists do not generally offer reciprocation in communication when it concerns opinions on topics such as religion, abortion, and politics.


  1. “Psychotherapy – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 June 2012. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/psychotherapy/MY00186.
  2. “Expedited Partner Therapy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 June 2012. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/std/ept/.

By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor

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