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Finding Help: How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy

Millions of Americans have found relief from depression and other emotional difficulties through psychotherapy. Even so, some people find it hard to get started or stay in psychotherapy. This brief question-and-answer guide provides some basic information to help individuals take advantage of outpatient (non-hospital) psychotherapy.

Why do people consider using psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a partnership between an individual and a professional such as a psychologist who is licensed and trained to help people understand their feelings and assist them with changing their behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one-third of adults in the United States experience an emotional or substance abuse problem. Nearly 25 percent of the adult population suffers at some point from depression or anxiety.
People often consider psychotherapy, also known simply as therapy, under the following circumstances:

  • They feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness, and they lack hope in their lives.
  • Their emotional difficulties make it hard for them to function from day to day. For example, they are unable to concentrate on assignments and their job performance suffers as a result.
  • Their actions are harmful to themselves or to others. For instance, they drink too much alcohol and become overly aggressive.
  • They are troubled by emotional difficulties facing family members or close friends.

What does research show about the effectiveness of psychotherapy?

Research suggests that therapy effectively decreases patients' depression and anxiety and related symptoms- such as pain, fatigue and nausea. Psychotherapy has also been found to increase survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients, and it can have a positive effect on the body's immune system. Research increasingly supports the idea that emotional and physical health are very closely linked and that therapy can improve a person's overall health status.

There is convincing evidence that most people who have at least several sessions of psychotherapy are far better off than untreated individuals with emotional difficulties. One major study showed that 50 percent of patients noticeably improved after eight sessions while 75 percent of individuals in therapy improved by the end of six months. Psychotherapy with children is similar in effectiveness to psychotherapy with adults.

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