What is Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a procedure in which various mental or emotional difficulties or disorders of personality are treated by some sort of communication between a psychotherapist and at least one patient. The nature of the difficulties, the specific setting for the procedure, and the particular sort of communication between the participants can vary quite a bit depending on the type of psychotherapy and how it was conceived (e.g. group psychotherapy, marital psychotherapy, play psychotherapy with children, behavioral therapy, or psychoanalysis). Different kinds of experiences in therapy can help different patients with distinct emotional difficulties. However, despite all the individual variability in that, there seem to be a few common factors associated with being helpful. The Psychoanalytic Research Consortium (PRC) and many other psychotherapy researchers have attempted to describe this process in detail. In the PRC, we have assessed a few common factors associated with a helpful psychotherapy process. Some of these factors are specific to the psychotherapist, some are specific to the patient, and some have to do with how patient and psychotherapist relate to one another. Through our clinical research, we feel we can help determine how best to listen and respond to another person in a particular way feels helpful to patients with various kinds of emotional difficulties.



Along with relevant clinical examples, we have provided a description of several aspects of this process:

    • Why do patients come for help?:

Patients generally consult a psychotherapist because of some distressing feeling they are having. In addition to relief from this emotional suffering, patients tend to experience a variety of other benefits (in terms of feeling less stuck, in terms of their sense of self, in terms of how they relate to others, etc.) from the psychotherapy process.

    • The therapeutic alliance:

An integral part of the psychotherapy process involves forming and maintaining a sense that patient and psychotherapist are working together collaboratively for shared goals, and with agreed-upon means of achieving these goals. This therapeutic alliance has been shown to correlate strongly with successful outcomes in psychotherapy. There are many factors that contribute to a stronger therapeutic alliance between patient and psychotherapist, and that could contribute to a weaker alliance.

    • What psychotherapists say:

Psychotherapists make use of several kinds of interventions as they listen to patients and decide how best to respond to their difficulties. At times, a psychotherapist may choose to encourage the patient to elaborate on what has already been said, or to clarify something the patient said, or to provide support or guidance, or to interpret a novel meaning in what has been said. Psychotherapists at times relate a pattern or theme the patient repeatedly talks about, and at times links various themes or several experiences the patient has had in the past and present moment.

    • What patients say:

Patients attempt to describe their feelings in a variety of different ways. At times, they may explore speaking about what the experience of the emotion is like, and at other times, they may choose to reflect on the meaning of an emotional experience. Some of the patient’s speech is focused on the past, and some is focused on the present in the room with the psychotherapist. At times, the patient is describing a set of feelings that seem to be at odds with one another, and at other times it is important for the patient to describe matters of self-esteem, and associated feelings of shame or pride.

    • Interactions between patient and psychotherapist:

The interaction between patient and psychotherapist can be productive or stagnant in a number of different, complex ways. How responsive each participant is to the other, how distant each one feels from the other, and the extent to which patient and psychotherapist can reflect on their experiences in the here-and-now can all have different effects depending on the context of the relationship.



PRC Psychotherapy Manual

In this site, we are interested in how psychotherapy works, and what actually occurs when it is helpful in alleviating a patient’s emotional distress. We have written the PRC Psychotherapy manual, as an educational tool for clinicians, researchers, and psychotherapy students to help characterize various aspects of the psychotherapy process.