In 2020, almost one in five adults in the United States lived with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. That is 52.9 million people! Simultaneously, there are an average of 132 suicides a day. Once a person decides to seek individual psychotherapy, they begin seeing positive changes.
When most people think about individual therapy, they envision a person lying on a couch and a therapist taking notes. But what is individual therapy?
Individual therapy, or individual psychotherapy, is mental health treatment between a person and a therapist. It is typically done in–person. However, some therapists will have sessions over video calls or the phone.
Being the most common therapy, individual psychotherapy may involve several different approaches. But, the goal of individual therapy is to increase the understanding of one’s thoughts and behaviors to increase function and well-being.
Therapy teaches people to manage stress, interpersonal difficulties, and troubling situations effectively. As a result, people develop the ability to set goals, make healthy decisions, and increase self-awareness.
Although attending regular therapy sessions is beneficial for everyone, the time to start therapy is when an issue causes distress or interferes with daily life. Distress can be negative thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and even fatigue or pain.
It is crucial not to put off getting help because symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed or hopeless can quickly worsen. Individual psychotherapy can also help if a person struggles with focusing at school or work or feels like hurting themselves.
A therapist can help people make healthy lifestyle changes, identify underlying issues, and provide strategies for change. Despite the stigma surrounding individual therapy, it helps reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
Individual therapy helps treat mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical issues. People may talk about the following in individual therapy:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anger issues
- Relationship troubles
- Family problems
Fear of the unknown is another reason people hesitate to seek individual psychotherapy. But therapy isn’t as “scary” as the mind can let it be. While the therapist is there to help you, you are always in control of what happens.
The first therapy session is typically the therapist getting to know you. They will gather information about past physical, mental, and emotional health issues. After a few sessions, the therapist better understands your situation and can create a treatment plan.
The first few sessions aren’t just for the therapist to learn about you but for you to see if the therapist is a good fit for you. Feeling comfortable with the therapist is crucial, or treatment won’t work. Sessions can bring up feelings that make you sad, angry, or upset. The right therapist will help build confidence and healthy coping skills.
Therapists often assign homework to help build on topics discussed in the session. This homework can encourage question-asking in therapy. It also helps develop positive moods and healthy thought patterns.
Confidentiality is crucial in individual therapy. However, a therapist must break confidentiality if someone is in immediate danger of harming others or themselves. Most therapists discuss confidentiality limits and provide written guidelines during the first session.
The client typically does most of the talking in individual therapy sessions while the therapist provides feedback when necessary. This encourages confidence and focuses on the client’s needs. Therapy can provoke feelings of sadness, anger, shame, guilt, joy, and relief, among others. Therapists can help people make sense of these feelings and improve emotional function.
Most individual therapy sessions last from 45 minutes to an hour. However, the length of each session and how often they occur depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The mental health issues and their severity
- How the issue affects daily life
- The amount of stress it causes
- How long it takes to improve
- A person’s financial limitations
Individual therapy that focuses on specific issues, such as job loss, may last a few weeks. However, individual therapy focusing on cognitive behavioral therapy has a prescribed length of time (typically 12 to 20 weeks).
Individual psychotherapy with a goal to make positive behavioral and character changes, such as sychodynamic therapy, can take two years or more to see results. However, people do not need to have a mental health disorder or severe issues to seek therapy. Many people attend weekly individual therapy sessions to benefit their overall well-being.
There are various forms of individual therapy. Some therapies work better than others, depending on the issue. Therapists often combine ideas from different approaches to address people’s needs.
The most popular and effective type of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps people understand the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy empowers people to change how they feel by changing their thoughts.
Other common types of individual therapy include:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – Dialectical behavior therapy is an offshoot of CBT. It is designed to treat borderline personality disorder, but it can also be beneficial in treating other disorders. The goal of DBT is to feel your feelings and emotions without judgment.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) – During ACT sessions, the therapist helps people accept their emotions and behaviors rather than fighting them. As people learn and accept they are worthy and valuable, they begin changing behaviors that do not model their worth.
- Psychodynamic therapy – Also known as insight-oriented therapy, psychodynamic therapy helps people understand that past experiences affect their present ones. This is the oldest form of individual psychotherapy. Psychodynamic therapy aims to reveal unconscious defense mechanisms and encourage people to talk about whatever comes to mind.
Various forms of individual therapy are effective for a wide range of mental health conditions. The effectiveness of individual therapy has been well-established for issues such as anxiety for many years.
Perhaps one of the most versatile types of individual psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, is effective in treating:
- Panic Disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance use disorders
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Class C personality disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Chronic pain
The first type of psychotherapy designed to treat anxiety is psychodynamic therapy. But, it has evolved and is just as beneficial in treating depression.
The benefits of individual psychotherapy are life-changing. They also typically last longer than a person’s time in therapy. The benefits include:
- Establishing a healthy, trusting, and safe relationship
- Learning to articulate feelings and emotions
- Identifying defense mechanisms
- Understanding why there are problematic behaviors
- Being accountable for behaviors
- Increasing self-awareness and self-efficacy
- Learning coping skills
- Managing symptoms
- Increases support network
The word psychotherapy comes from the Greek words for soul and healing. It is believed that the ancient Greeks were the first to view mental health conditions as physical and mental issues. Simultaneously, other cultures viewed them as demonic possessions.
However, the Greeks had a limited understanding of mental health. But, they still understood the importance of speaking positive and encouraging words to those with mental health issues. At the same time, they had many false beliefs. For example, they believed only women struggled with hysteria and that bathing was a treatment for depression.
But in the 18th century, reformers worked to get better treatment for severe mental disorders. In 1773, the first asylum was founded in the United States. Most towns had an asylum by the 19th century.
Although treatments had improved, it was rare for someone in an asylum to leave. This led to a high number of institutionalized people. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for people in asylums to be restrained and receive violent treatment from their doctors.
Throughout human history, there have been many informal types of mental health treatments. However, near the end of the 19th century, modern psychotherapy was developed in western Europe. This was the time when Wilhelm Wundt established the first laboratory for psychological research. Along with Sigmund Freud’s “talking cure,” they laid the foundation for psychoanalysis.
During the 20th century, many therapeutic techniques flourished. The techniques, which the schools of thought inspired, include psychoanalysis, behaviorism, cognitivism, and systems psychology.
In the 21st century, many treatments incorporate diverse fields like mindfulness and neurobiology. Many modern-day approaches focus on helping people identify their concerns, promote personal growth, and develop healthy coping skills.
Each person’s goals in individual psychotherapy are different depending on their needs. However, there are common goals that each therapist aims to achieve, including:
- Building a strong sense of trust between the client and therapist
- Having open and honest communication
- Understanding the benefits of a client-therapist relationship
- Using the above benefits to understand a client’s thought and behavior pattern
- Increasing a person’s self-awareness of emotions and defense mechanisms
- Fostering strong internal structures to manage emotions and feelings effectively
Life can be stressful and overwhelming. But this can be amplified when people struggle with a mental illness. Whatever it is that you are struggling with, individual therapy can be life-changing.
At Adler Health, our mental health professionals create a personalized treatment plan and help you meet your goals of building a happy and healthy life. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.