Talking therapies

bush of bright eyes

Talking therapies gives people the opportunity to speak in confidence to a trained professional about problems/issues that are causing them concern. Some people use talking therapies to help them to cope with specific difficulties, such as serious illness/bereavement/anxiety/depression whereas, other people may use them for personal-growth/development.

Different types of approaches in the talking therapies.


Counselling is a general term for a range of talking therapies. A counsellor listens to a person’s concerns in a non-judgemental/supportive manner. The aim of counselling is to help the person seeking support to be clearer about their problems. In this way, people are able to come up with their own answers. It is often used to help someone cope with recent events that they have found difficult.


Psychotherapy provides a more in-depth form of therapy than counselling and can address a wider range of issues. There are many different types of psychotherapy approaches.

These include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a specific form of psychotherapy. It aims to help people to change how they think (‘cognitive’) and what they do (‘behaviour’). These changes can help people to feel better. Unlike some of the other talking therapies, CBT focuses on the ‘here and now’ instead of focusing on the causes of distress in the past. In addition, CBT looks for ways to improve the person’s current situation.
  • Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how a person’s current behaviour and relationships are affected by their unconscious thoughts and past experiences (particularly childhood experiences). Psychoanalysis is similar to psychodynamic therapy in that it raises awareness of how early experiences and relationships affect current behaviours and motives. Psychoanalysis is more in-depth and sessions are usually more frequent than in other types of therapeutic approaches.
  • The humanistic therapies encourage people to think about their feelings and take responsibility for their thoughts/actions in terms of life’s meaning/values, and achieving the highest potential. The emphasis of humanistic therapies is on personal growth.

A psychotherapist will help a person increase their understanding of how their personality and life experiences influence their current thoughts/feelings/relationships and behaviour.

How do talking therapies work?

Talking therapies can involve a number of regular face-to-face sessions that usually last for an hour. There is an initial assessment where the therapist will obtain an idea of the problem and some background information. The therapist will then discuss a treatment plan with the person. It is also possible to receive counselling/psychotherapy over the telephone or on Skype.

There is no standard length of time for therapy. The number of sessions required will depend on the type of problem, the type of therapy, and who is giving the therapy. Successful therapy depends very much on the development of a trusting relationship between the therapist and the client. It is therefore important that people work with a therapist whose approach and manner they are comfortable with. The relationship between a client and a therapist is confidential. This means that what is discussed during therapy will not be disclosed to anyone else.

What should I look for in a therapist?

It is important that you feel comfortable with your therapist. This will depend on your own personality and that of the therapist. It is also important to check that the therapist:

  • Is accredited by the relevant professional body such as the BACP.
  • Abides by a professional code of ethics.
  • Has regular ongoing professional supervision to ensure safe and ethical practice.
  • Discuss their approach, confidentiality, and fees.