Psychotherapy 101: Common Questions About Talk Therapy

Therapists help people develop awareness and insight into bothersome thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They help people with stress management, relationship difficulties, the effects of mental illness, and more. They accept you for who you are, even while working with you to change those things you’ve identified as being negative or problematic. Importantly, a therapist is not just a friend who listens to your woes and tries to give you personal advice.

It’s common for people to look into therapy without having an exact reason or specific diagnosis. They reach out to a therapist because they just know that things in their life aren’t quite right. That’s normal. That’s okay. One purpose for therapy is to help you make sense of what you’re experiencing.


The effectiveness of psychotherapy (aka “talk therapy” or just plain “therapy”) has been studied for more than 100 years and has been found to have a positive impact on overall functioning that is significant, far-reaching, and long-lasting. 

 Therapy clients are often seeking help with relational, emotional, psychological, or behavioral issues. They enter therapy to improve relationships, gain coping skills, unburden themselves of guilt or shame, or understand themselves better. 

When asked if therapy helped with the above-mentioned issues, most clients report experiencing relief after treatment, especially when matched with a therapist who is capable of facilitating a strong therapeutic relationship. You can read more about the effectiveness of talk therapy here.

Choosing a therapist is a big decision and can feel daunting. But finding the right therapist to work with can be an important part of reclaiming your life and maintaining wellbeing. 

Here are a few things to look for in a therapist: 

  • they’re credentialed and in good standing 
  • they have experience with the issues and concerns you’d like to work on
  • they seem like someone you can trust and feel comfortable with
  • they can see you at a time that is convenient for you their services fit your budget 

If you’re new to therapy, take a few minutes to read Choosing Therapy’s complete guide to finding a therapist.

As you begin your therapist search you’ll encounter a seemingly endless string of acronyms following mental health professionals’ names.

In most cases, these signify education obtained, licensures held, and additional certifications. Here are the professionals that are able to offer psychotherapy services and their corresponding acronyms: 

  • Psychologist (PsyD, EdD, PhD)
  • Social Worker (MSW, LCSW, LCSW-C, LISW, LSW)
  • Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT, MFCC, LMFT, LCMFT)
  • Counselors (LPC, LMHC, NCC)
  • Pastoral Counseling (CCPT, CpastC, LpastC, LPP)
  • Psychiatrist (MD) 

Therapists often do additional training in order to obtain certification in specialty areas or specialized techniques, a complete list of which can be found here. Importantly, not on that list are coaches, like Life Coaches, Relationship Coaches, etc (though some licensed therapists also offer these services). 

Here's a complete list of mental health professionals

Getting help for a friend or family member usually begins with a conversation. One of the most important elements in conversations about mental health is compassion: be open and a willing to listen without judgment or criticism. Try to see them as a whole person, not just as their illness or as a list of symptoms/behaviors. If you approach your loved one with empathy and patience, you’re likely to build trust that will encourage them to open up. 

 There’s no need to place too much emphasis on trying to diagnose what’s wrong or “label” the specific issue. Just listen to their experiences and how their symptoms are impacting their life. In addition to listening, you can ask them what they need from you in terms of both emotional and practical support. When talking to your loved one about their mental health struggles it’s important to convey a sense of hope: treatment is available, effective, and can lead to an improvement in your quality of life. 

 If someone you care about is in an emergency situation and at risk of harming themselves or others, don’t wait, call 9-1-1. The national Suicide Hotline can also be a valuable resource (1-800-273-8255) as can any of the crisis resources found here.