Types of Mental Health Therapy

Choosing a Mental Health Provider

In choosing the right psychiatrist, psychotherapist or social worker, there are many avenues to pursue. Though many of us may feel scared or uncertain, one of the best ways to find a good mental health provider is to ask a trusted friend, relative or your family doctor. Other resources also include seeking a patient advocacy group (such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), asking for referrals from an employee-assistance program, or calling a local medical school.

At the first meeting, the mental health provider should be clearly interested in your problem and not be distracted by phone calls, e-mails, etc. You are paying for his or her time and it should be entirely focused on you. During the first visit you will usually receive a diagnostic evaluation which includes questions such as: How long have you felt this way? Has your ability to sleep, eat, concentrate, work, etc. been affected? Have you ever considered suicide? Many mental health professionals will often diagnose you by using criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) by the American Psychiatric Association. By the end of the first session you should ask your therapist to provide you with a summary of the diagnostic evaluation and what type of therapy he or she would suggest. The key is to feel that you trust your therapist and that you can build a relationship working together to overcome your problems.

Group therapy, like individual psychotherapy, is intended to help people who would like to improve their ability to cope with problems in their lives. However, instead of a one-on-one meeting with a mental health professional, group therapy involves several individuals (usually six to eight) and a therapist or facilitator. The aim of group psychotherapy is to help solve emotional difficulties and to encourage the personal development of the participants in the group. One of the advantages of group therapy over individual therapy is that patients are able to develop more effective ways of relating interpersonally with others and to share their experiences with more than one person.

Group therapy also gives individuals a sense of hope and universality. The realization that one is not alone in dealing with the emotional upheavals of binge eating and then vomiting can be a relief for many eating disorder patients. Seeing those in the group who have learned to cope with their problems also provides hope and encouragement for participants. In addition, group therapy provides a means of getting direct advice from a "peer" or group member. Some people find that this is less threatening and more practical. By engaging in group therapy, many participants also develop socializing techniques by imitating behaviors of other group members which may help them better deal with their own, individual problems. Knowing that one belongs to a group or social network can be a powerful, confidence-building characteristic and offers the type of group togetherness that cannot be found in individual treatments.

There are different types of group therapy which include family therapy and psychodrama. Family therapy is usually used in the treatment of children, adolescents or young adults and is used when a patient's difficulties come from disturbed relationships within their family. Psychodrama is a form of group therapy originated by J.L. Moreno in which patients act out roles and characterizations in dramatic form on a stage. It encourages patients to communicate inner tensions, conflicts and feelings. [Source: Nicholi]

When choosing a group psychotherapist, look for a well-trained, reliable and ethnical professional. Reputable group therapists usually belong to professional associations such as the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA). An experienced group therapist will interview you before you enter the group and will answer your questions about the process. Ask how many years of experience the therapist has and most importantly trust your instincts.

The third, and probably most common type of therapy is pharmacological or drug therapy. Millions of people are prescribed Prozac each year, with many citing the drug as a "miracle cure" for mild to severe depression. What exactly are the drugs available to treat mental illnesses? To understand how psychiatric drugs became so popular, it is useful to review their recent history. Many in field of mental health refer to the 1960s as a the era of a "drug revolution" in psychiatry. Before the 1960s, "talk therapy" was often the only mode of treatment. Barbiturates were often used for anxiety and very depressed patients were given shock treatments. By the early 1970s, however, four major classifications of psychiatric drugs were being prescribed in record numbers: antipsychotic agents, antimanic or mood-stabilizing agents, antidepressants, and antianxiety agents. [Source: Gorman]