Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness


How does psychotherapy work?

There are at least three mechanisms through which psychotherapy helps people feel better: social support, insight, and skills building. A large body of research shows the powerful effect of social support in just about all aspects of psychological health. When people are under stress, it is extremely helpful for them to talk out their problems with another person. Nonetheless, psychotherapy provides more than just social support. Otherwise, there would be no need for trained professionals—friends and family would do just as well. Psychotherapy also helps people gain insight. It helps them learn about their motivations, emotions, and behavior, along with their effect on others.

With greater self-understanding, people are better equipped to handle life’s challenges. Additionally, some people lack the necessary psychological skills to function well in life. For example, they could have difficulty managing anger, negotiating conflict, maintaining positive emotion, confronting anxiety-provoking stimuli, or controlling self-destructive impulses. Psychotherapy can teach people new skills to better handle these challenges.


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