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Does Psychotherapy Really Help?
Many people know little about psychotherapy and the way in which TV shows and movies portray psychotherapy is often designed to get laughs rather than to inspire confidence. Thus, it isn't surprising that many people wonder if psychotherapy really helps. However, there is a big need for effective help. It has been estimated that nearly 25% of the adult population suffers from depression or anxiety at some point and many more encounter other emotional problems or substance abuse problems.

The good news is that millions of Americans have found relief from depression, anxiety, and other problems through psychotherapy. One major study found that 50% of individuals in therapy improved noticeably after eight sessions while 75% improved by the end of six months. At this point considerable scientific research has been done on psychotherapy and effective treatment approaches have been developed for many problems.

Don't I Need Medication?
Many people wonder if the problems they encounter are "biochemical" or "psychological" and assume that if the problems are biochemical, then taking medication is the solution. However, life is not that simple. Chemicals are involved in all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions and our thoughts and feelings influence the chemicals in our brains as well. Most problems involve biochemical, psychological, and behavioral components.

Consider depression as an example. Medications which alleviate depression have made major advances in recent years and contemporary antidepressants are effective for about 70% of depressed individuals. Some people look at this and conclude, "Aha! 70% of depressions are biochemical." However, psychological treatments for depression have also made major advances in recent years and some psychological treatments, such as Cognitive Therapy, are effective 70 to 80% of the time. We could say, "Aha! 70 to 80% of depressions are psychological!" but clearly something is wrong with this reasoning. If 70% of depressions are biochemical and 70 to 80% are psychological, this adds up to a lot more than 100%.

In reality, both antidepressant medication and psychotherapy are effective treatments for depression and they can be used separately or in combination. For some problems, appropriate medication is an important part of treatment. For other problems, medication can be useful as a part of treatment but the problem can also be treated effectively without medication. For yet other problems, no effective medications have yet been developed. The best way to figure out whether medication is worth considering is to seek out information about the particular problems the individual is dealing with and to consult a knowledgeable mental health professional.

Locating Therapists in Your Area
A close friend or family member may be able to recommend a therapist who they found helpful. This is often a good guide, especially if they received help for the same sort of problem you are facing.

Your primary care physician or religious leader may be able to recommend a therapist whose work they are familiar with. Let them know what you are looking for in a therapist so that they can make appropriate recommendations.

Many state and local psychological associations offer referral services which can recommend licensed psychologists in your area. If you have difficulty locating the telephone number of your state psychological association, call the American Psychological Association's Practice Directorate at 202-336-5800 and they can give you the name and telephone number of your state psychological association.

A number of on-line directories can help you locate mental health professionals in your area. Try the following:

Ideally you will get more than one lead. Call the therapists who sound promising and find out about their licensure and level of training, their approach to therapy, fees and location. It is important to choose someone who you think you can work with and who you think can help you.

How to get the most out of psychotherapy
Therapy is a partnership between an individual and a professional who is trained and licensed to help people understand their feelings and change their behavior. Both you and your therapist have responsibilities in establishing and maintaining a good working relationship.

There are many approaches to therapy, but therapy works best when there is open communication between you and your therapist. At the beginning of therapy, try to let your therapist know what you want to get out of therapy and speak up if the approach they have in mind doesn't make sense to you. You'll get the most out of therapy if you attend consistently, give some thought to what you want to discuss in each session, and try to put the ideas from your therapy sessions into practice between sessions.

After a few sessions, it is a good sign if you find that you are feeling more comfortable with your therapist and feel that the two of you are making progress in understanding your problems and in making some changes. If you find that you are not feeling comfortable with your therapist, or if you feel that the two of you are not making much headway, it is important to let your therapist know about this in the hopes that the two of you can overcome these problems. If you are thinking of discontinuing therapy, talk this over with your therapist. This might be a good idea or there might be a problem that you and your therapist can work out.

It is a good idea to periodically review your progress with your therapist. There are many things to consider in deciding when to end therapy, but if you have accomplished your primary goals and the improvement seems to be lasting, it may be time to plan how to end therapy and maintain your gains.

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