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Overview of psychotherapies

Jay Lebow, PhD, ABPP
Section Editors
Andrew Skodol, MD
Thomas L Schwenk, MD
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


Psychotherapy is an interpersonal treatment based on psychological principles. It is individualized to the patient, seeking to help him or her with a psychiatric disorder, problem, or adverse circumstance [1].

There are many types of psychotherapy with varying methods and levels of empirical support. The choice of the most appropriate type of psychotherapy is in part based upon the patient’s specific problem or diagnosis (table 1).

This topic will provide an overview of psychotherapy to help the clinician providing psychotherapy, or referring a patient to a mental health provider for psychotherapy, explain the rationale for such therapy to a patient. More detailed discussions of psychotherapy for specific disorders are reviewed in detail separately. (See "Unipolar depression in adults: Psychodynamic psychotherapy" and "Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) for depressed adults: Indications, theoretical foundation, general concepts, and efficacy" and "Psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder in adults" and "Psychotherapy for panic disorder in adults" and "Psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in adults" and "Pharmacotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder in adults".)


Although there are many named psychotherapies, most are derivations of a few basic types. Psychotherapies within each of these categories broadly share a similar explanatory model and set of techniques. However, therapies are frequently modified (and may be renamed) when applied to new conditions or populations. Clinical trials have found each of the following psychotherapies, when administered under structured protocols by trained therapists, to be effective for specific psychiatric disorders (table 1) [2].

Cognitive and behavioral psychotherapies


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Literature review current through: Mar 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 09, 2015.
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