Psychotherapy is the treatement of mental/ emotional disorders using psychological methods. It involves psychoanalysis, which are therapy sessions based on a strong doctor-patient relationship. There is two main forms of therapy:

Behaviour therapy, which uses either systematic desensitization or aversive conditioning for the treatement of irrational feelings/anxieties and/or bad habits.

Humanistic therapy, during which the psychotherapist encourages self-awareness and understanding in the patient.

However, there have been many different schools of therapy throughout the years and various methods employed to reach the same end. The aim of psychotherapy is always to bring about change, either in thought- cognition; in feelings – affection; or in doings – behaviour. Another goal of all psychotherapy is to learn and to find a new way of looking at life. We can learn actively, through self-analysis (this could be just talking to a therapist), or passively, by listening to the therapist’s interpretations and advice. There are also therapies that include physical action, e.g. you might be asked to do “homework” which will involve doing something positive in your life. While some therapies work to reduce the emotions, others are designed to bring out strong emotions from within you. A psychotherapist need not follow only one school of therapy, but may fuse the ideas in order to suit his patient. You will find brief outlines of the various schools of psychotherapy below:

Behaviour Therapy

In behaviour therapy both children and adults are taught that they must play an active role in determining the goals of their treatement, as well as putting it into practise. The basic approaches of modern behaviour therapy consist of:

Applied Behaviour Analysis, which is a technique based on reinforcement, punishment, extinction, stimulus control and other procedures from laboratory research. The focus is on an instense study of the individual.

A Neobehavioristic Mediational Stimulus- Response Model, including the techniques of systematic desensitization and flooding, designed to exterminate anxiety and phobias.

Social Learning Theory, which is largely based on the connection between behaviour, actions and environment around the patient. It emphasizes the human capacity to change themselves, and thus their situation..

Cognitive Behaviour Modification, which encompasses many diverse procedures, the most characteristic being cognitive restructuring, focusing on how the individual interprets situations, and using persuasion and argument to change perceptions.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive Therapy is based on a theory that the individual’s personality and how they think determines how they feel and behave. The therapist uses behavioural experiments and verbal procedures to examine the individual’s interpretations and to generate evidence to contradict his views, which leads to therapeutic change. In mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, mania and obsessive-compulsive disorders, a certain bias is introduced when processing information, for example a depressed person’s thinking will introduce an element of loss and defeat to the information they receive. The strategy used in this form of therapy will involve a collaboration between doctor and patient in order to explore the patient’s mode of thinking and to modify it. A variety of techniques may be used to do this. The therapist may try to show the patient of different way of thinking and encourage the individual to try a different set of beliefs that are more beneficial to his/her life.

Existential Psychotherapy

Existential psychotherapy arouse in the minds of a number of psychiatrists and psychologists in Europe in the 1940s and 50s, who needed a way of understanding human beings in the present, which was simple and reliable. People are seen in the light of the age they are living in, and deals with issues concerning the nature of human anxiety, despair, grief, loneliness, isolation, anomie, creativity and love.

The Basic Concepts are:

  1. The “I-am” experience. This is the acknowledgement of being responsible for one’s life and choosing one’s being.
  2. Normal and Neurotic anxiety. Normal anxiety has 3 characteristics: It is proportionate to the problem faced; it does not require repression, we can come to terms with it; and it may be used creatively. Neurotic anxiety is not appropriate to the situation, it is repressed, and it is destructive, not constructive. Neurotic anxiety paralyzes rather than stimulates.
  3. Guilt. This is an important but complicated concept, as guilt comes in may forms. It can be both normal and neurotic, and can be directed towards others and ourselves.
  4. 3 Forms of the World. In existential therapy, the world is divided into 3 parts: The world around us, our environment; the world of community, or the people around us; and the own world, which is the relationship we have with ourselves.
  5. The Significance of Time. Looking at ourselves as existing in space causes us to loose touch with the nature of our existence, as we exist in the dimension of time. We have the ability to both stay in the past and consider the future long-term. However, emotions have less to do with time. Existential therapy attempts to give a patient an understanding of time, as well establishing a connection with it e.g. Hopes for the future.
  6. The Capacity to Transcend the Immediate Situation.

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological-existential therapy founded by Fritz and Laura Perls in the 1940s. it teaches a method of awareness in which perceiving, acting and feeling are differentiated from interpreting and changing existing attitudes. It focuses on what is happening rather than what is being discussed. differences in perception are the focus of dialogue and on what is being done and felt in the present, rather than what might be, could be, or has been.

Phenomenology is a discipline which helps people stand aside from their usual way of thinking, and tell the difference between what is being perceived and felt in the moment, from what is residue from the past.

Gestalt therapy exaines what is felt “subjectively”, as well what is observed “objectively”. The goal is awareness and insight. By becomming aware, the person will challange self-deception and inauthenticity. Gestalt therapy aims to teach the patient a way of being truthful and responcible with him/herself.

Insight is a clear understanding of the situation being studied.


Psychoanalysis is a system derived from the discoveries of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). It emphasizes the sub-conscious mind and the conflicting forces within our mind. A fundamental principle is that humans are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Our early childhood experieces of these two emotions shape the rest of our lives. Psychoanalysis is about getting to know ourselves. By being analised, the individual can recognise his patterns of behaviour and choose to act rationally rather than automatically. This gives the individual a freedom and a control over themselves that they previously lacked.

Rational-Emotive Therapy

Rational-emotive therapy (RET) is a theory of personality and a method of psychotherapy developed by Albert Ellis. It is based on the assumption that when a highly charged emotional consequence (C) follows a relevant activating event (A), it is actually our beliefs (B) that cause us to react in the way in which we do. Anotherword, A seems to cause C when, in fact, it is B is causing C.

The basic beliefs of RAT are:

  1. People have the potential to be both positive and rational, as well as negative and irrational.
  2. People’s tendency for irrational thinking, intolerance, self-destructiveness and/or wishful thinking is often exacerbated by their culture and family group. They are thus conditioned from an early age.
  3. Humans have a tendancy to perceive, think, emote and behave all at the same time. To help them, a psychotherapist must begin understanding their patterns of perception, thinking, emoting and behaviour.
  4. RAT thrapists do not believe a warm relationship between therapist and patient is necassary. The aim is to get the patient better using homewrok-assigning and discipline-orientated therapies.
  5. RAT is “multi-modal” therapy. In order to help the patient change their beliefs, the therapist will employ: role-playing; assertion training; desentization; suggestion; humour; and more.
  6. RET maintains that all serious, emotional problems stem from irrational, dogmatic, unexamined beliefs that they hold. These beliefs will be pin-pointed and disputed by the therapist.