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What Are Talking Therapies?

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 8 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Therapy Group One To One Talking

The term ‘talking therapy’ refers to the increasingly popular focus on communication in psychology. Talking therapies can vary greatly in their approach and purpose, but the underlying similarity is that all talking therapies are patient-led sessions that encourage the patient to talk about their issues.

A common misconception about talking therapies is that the therapist, counsellor or psychologist somehow ‘cures’ the patient by telling them what to do or pointing out the ‘error of their ways’. This is not the case. Talking therapies are not passive on the part of the therapist in that they do direct the patient towards discussing certain issues, but they do not ‘tell the patient what to do’, rather they guide them into discovering the ‘right way’ for themselves.

All talking therapies encourage the patient to talk through and explore their feelings in order to address harmful thoughts, beliefs or actions, such as psychotic thoughts, self-destructive thoughts or addictive behaviour. Widely considered to be especially of value for children and young people, talking therapies are none the less available to all, for a wide variety of personal and behavioural issues.

The most widely accepted types of talking therapy are cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoanalysis and group therapy.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

The ultimate goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to challenge negative and/or destructive thoughts through regular, confidential communication. As such, it is a popular and successful form of therapy for people that need to ‘reprogramme’ negative thought patterns. This can mean mental health issues that are related to psychotic or self-destructive issues, or substance abuse or other negative behaviour that stems from a difficult youth or childhood.

Most CBT takes place on a one to one basis, although some issues can also include a one-off ‘family session’ or ‘spouse session’, if their behaviour is considered to be involved. CBT helps people to build ‘internal coping skills’ to deal with their negative or destructive thoughts.


The talking therapy of psychoanalysis is also called ‘free talking therapy’ as it is centred around sessions of open communication on a one to one basis between the psychologist (or psychotherapist) and the patient. Closely connected to the Freudian school of psychology and thought, psychoanalysis is dedicated to unlocking and unblocking the ‘secrets’ of the unconscious mind to help understand the actions of the patient.

The movie cliché of a patient being shown ink blot pictures and being asked to say the first thing that comes into their head is not really what happens, but it does show the ‘unconscious’ element of psychoanalysis clearly. What is more realistic is a patient sitting on a couch (yes, that part is not a cliché!) and talking freely to the psychologist or psychotherapist, who may prompt the patient in certain directions, but may only say a few words or make encouraging noises.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a very effective form of talking therapy, particularly in the case of substance abuse and addiction issues as it is a great support network for fellow suffers. Most group therapy happens in addition to one to one therapy, or as a form of ‘follow up’ therapy to ensure the patient continues to develop in the right direction.

Perhaps the most famous form of group therapy is Alcoholics Anonymous, where small groups of up to about 12 people gather weekly to support each other, share stories of their behaviour and recovery in order to continue their progress.

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