Mental health

How psychotherapy can help combat mental illness

Man participating in talk therapy
Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) can be an important part of treatment for anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder (manic depression). A good therapist can help you cope with feelings and symptoms, and change behaviour patterns that may contribute to your illness.

Talk therapy is not just “talking about your problems,” it is also working toward solutions. Some therapy may involve homework, such as tracking your moods, writing about your thoughts, or deliberately exposing yourself to situations which may have caused anxiety in the past (graded exposure.) You might be encouraged to look at things in a different way or learn new ways to react to events or people.

Although longer forms of psychotherapy still exist, psychotherapy is becoming more brief and focused on your current thoughts, feelings and life issues. Although focusing on the past can help explain things in your current life, focusing on current problems or challenges in the present can help you cope with the present and prepare for the future. You might see your therapist more often at the beginning of treatment, and later, as you learn to manage problems and avoid triggers, you might go to psychotherapy appointments less often.

Psychotherapy can help you:

  • Understand your illness
  • Define and reach specific wellness goals
  • Overcome fears or insecurities
  • Cope with stress
  • Make sense of past traumatic experiences
  • Separate your true personality from the mood swings caused by your illness
  • Identify triggers that may worsen your symptoms
  • Improve relationships with family and friends
  • Establish a stable, dependable routine
  • Develop a plan for coping with crises
  • Understand why certain things bother you and what you can do about them
  • End destructive habits such as drinking, using drugs, overspending or unhealthy sex

Who provides talk therapy? Your therapist may be a psychiatrist, general physician who practices psychotherapy, psychologist, social worker, counselor or psychiatric nurse.

Your ability to talk honestly and openly with your therapist, set clear goals and make real progress is important. You do not need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about your feelings and concerns. Think of your relationship with your therapist as a partnership. Although your therapist should convey warmth and allow you to feel at ease, this is a professional relationship. The two of you will work together to help you feel better.

This post first appeared on aliveandawake.ca.

About the author

Dr. Ari Zaretsky

Dr. Ari Zaretsky

Dr. Ari Zaretsky is Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, as well as a professor with the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

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2 Comments

  • I read your write up on the newspaper in other city and wondering how a family could contact your department regarding the subject of
    Path-Mod. OCD, Depression and Borderline of personality disorder ?

    • Thanks for your question, May. To be eligible for the PATH-MOD study, participants need to have a clinician here at Sunnybrook providing ongoing follow-up. If you’d like more info, please speak to your Sunnybrook clinician. Wishing you and your family well.