What problems can psychological therapies help people with?
There is a wide range of psychological problems which have been shown to respond to psychological treatment of various sorts. Research has shown that there are effective psychological therapies for all the problems listed below as well as for many others not listed here.
- Depressed mood: Some people experience sudden dips in mood which make them unhappy and disrupt their lives for hours or days at a time. Some people feel low almost all the time without really understanding why. Psychotherapy can address the factors that bring about low mood.
- Anxiety: Although some anxiety is a normal part of life some people experience such extreme anxiety that they feel desperate and may avoid important activities to try to keep it under control. Panic attacks, social anxiety, chronic worrying, health anxiety, and childhood separation anxiety are examples of these kind of experiences. Psychotherapy can lead to marked reductions in and control over anxiety.
- Emotional instability: Some people find themselves easily swept up in intense feelings. They may return to balance, only to be swept up again into feeling empty, lonely, worthless being self-critical and/or sudden outbursts of anger at self or others. These people may not be chronically anxious or depressed, but the instability makes it difficult for them and others around them at work or in important relationships. Through psychotherapy, individuals can attain a more stable and balanced experience.
- Mood swings: Some people find the swing between extreme states of excitement and elation (when they may do irresponsible things and take very little sleep) and periods of low mood in which they feel fatigued that that life is not worth living. Psychotherapy can help people get better control of such swings of mood.
- Eating disorders: such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Those affected become pre-occupied with food, and controlling their diet to the extent that it negatively effects their work and important relationships. In bulimia nervosa compensatory behaviours like inducing vomiting or excessive exercise may undermine health, in anorexia nervosa individuals may lose so much weight that they put their lives at risk. Psychotherapy can help affected individuals to identify why they behave like this and to change self-destructive behaviours.
- Abuse of and dependence on illegal drugs and alcohol. Often people who use substances to excess are “self-medicating” that is using the soothing effect of the substance to damp down or numb distressing thoughts and emotions. However, often the long term effects are to increase emotional distress. For example, excessive use of alcohol increases vulnerability to depression and anxiety. Psychotherapy can help you find better ways of dealing with these.
- Behaviour problems in children and adolescents: these include difficulties in maintaining attention, aggressive and noncompliant behaviour or extreme withdrawal and avoidance. All these can respond to psychological interventions.
- Relationship conflicts: Conflicts in relationship particularly between spouses or partners and within the family can be deeply painful. They can give rise to chronic unhappiness that manifests in many of the problems already listed above. Appropriate psychotherapy for couples can reduce conflict and increase intimacy, making relationshlps more satisfying.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of emotional distress result from recent or past trauma or abuse. Despite the desire to “put the past behind me” a person keeps getting flashbacks to memories of one or more past traumatic events or goes to great lengths to avoid reminders.Unresolved grief can have the same effect – a person wants to move forward but remains pre-occupied with painful thoughts and feelings about a loved one who has died. Trauma-focused psychotherapy can help affected individual process the emotions related to trauma and loss and move on.
- Sexual difficulties may sometimes be due to conflicts in a relationship but can often occur in a couple because of difficulties in the way one or both learned about sex and sexual behaviour or due to traumatic sexual experiences in the past. Sex therapy can assist with many of these problems.
- Chronic fatigue: After a period of prolonged stress (or sometimes after having a viral illness such as ‘flu) some people don’t recover their energy. They continue to feel tired all the time and to sleep or rest much more than usual. This of course is very disruptive at work or in relationships. Psychotherapy can often contribute to recovery by addressing behaviours or attitudes that contribute to the maintenance of fatigue.
Research on the effectiveness of psychotherapy
Most of these problems respond to quite specific approaches to psychotherapy. For several decades there has been ongoing research on the effectiveness of different kinds of psychotherapy for specific problems. Practitioners who are committed to evidence-based practice follow the latest research developments so they know what kind of psychotherapies work best for different kinds of problem.
For extensive web resources and reports on the effectiveness of CBT http://mindovermood.com/news_press.htm
The American Psychological Association recently adopted a long resolution based on a review of the latest research in which they affirmed the effectiveness of a range of psychotherapies. You can see this at http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/resolution-psychotherapy.aspx
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the United Kingdom publishes guidelines on evidenced based treatments for a wide range of medical and psychological problems at http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG/Published. For example you can see their guidelines for adult depression at http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG90/NICEGuidance/pdf/English. You can also do an internet search to find out what forms of therapy have been shown to be most effective for particular problems – or ask a psychologist.