What Is Individual Psychotherapy? A Comprehensive Overview

This article will provide a comprehensive and insightful overview of individual psychotherapy, how it differs from things like group therapy, and its usefulness in treating mental and behavioral health issues. 


When you try to define individual psychotherapy, you might just picture an old couch, a sterile office space, and a man with oversized glasses. However, an individual psychotherapy definition differs from regular psychotherapy in that you work with a single therapist, and you can use several forms of techniques or approaches based on the condition with which you struggle and the outcomes you are trying to gain. This is a highly individualized process that can include tailored treatment plans with individualized benefits.

This article will briefly focus on the key principles behind individual therapy, the approaches that are used, the benefits, and any challenges to getting the right treatment.

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-Defining Individual Psychotherapy

What is individual psychotherapy? Individual therapy is a form of psychotherapy where you work with a single-trained professional through personal issues. This is a very effective, evidence-based form of treatment that can help tackle a variety of mental health issues and emotional challenges. Individual therapy is also referred to as talk therapy, and it works to help improve your symptoms, control your symptoms, or adjust your relationship to your symptoms.

-The Therapeutic Relationship

When you work with a therapist, you’ll have the opportunity to speak confidentially about issues that you have or symptoms of your mental health disorders. 

To be clear, the job of your therapist is not necessarily to make your problems disappear but rather to equip you with the tools you need to cope more successfully with the symptoms of your distress or mental health disorder.

-Approaches and Techniques

There are several types of individual psychotherapy approaches and techniques used. The type that is best for you will hinge on the type of condition for which you are seeking treatment. In general, you get to meet with your therapist in a private and comfortable setting and explore issues that are pertinent to your circumstances, such as:

  • How you express your emotions
  • Problem-solving
  • Resolving past trauma
  • Dealing with loss of enjoyment
  • Overcoming issues at work
  • Building a support networking
  • Identifying the causes of your symptoms
  • Managing symptoms with coping strategies
  • Improving strained relationships
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Conflict resolution
  • Making lifestyle changes
  • Boosting your understanding and support of yourself
  • Behavioral patterns
  • Communication

Your therapy might focus on meeting short-term issues or reaching long-term goals. The frequency with which you meet your therapist and the number of sessions you need for overall improvement is based on your circumstances, and that’s something you can discuss with your therapist as you start to make progress. 

-Conditions Treated

Any condition can be treated with individual psychotherapy. The therapy you receive may not resolve or cure your condition, but it can help you manage the symptoms and change how you live with your condition.

The type of approach and technique is going to look different based on your needs. For example:

  • Personality disorders can be treated best with dialectical behavioral therapy, which focuses on controlling emotions, practicing mindfulness, and relating more effectively to others. 
  • Depressive disorders might be treated with behavioral therapy to work on modifying harmful behaviors or cognitive behavioral therapy to help modify automatic thoughts and emotions. 
  • ADHD can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, counseling psychology, and Family Therapy
  • PTSD can be treated with EMDR and cognitive behavioral therapy 
  • Anxiety disorders can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or individual psychotherapy
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-Benefits and Outcomes of Individual Psychotherapy

There are several benefits to individual psychotherapy. The first benefit is that this type of therapy can be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment like group therapy, family therapy, and holistic care.

-Confidentiality and Ethics

All therapy sessions are confidential, and licensed therapists and psychologists all have to abide by a code of ethics. This means you can trust the professional with whom you work and know that they will work to the best of their capacity to provide you with the help you need and that they won’t share that information with anyone else.

-Tailored Treatment Plans

As mentioned, individual psychotherapy plans can be combined with other treatments, and this makes it easier to get tailored plans that incorporate the approaches and techniques that might be most beneficial for you.

For example:

Someone struggling with major depressive disorder might benefit from Individual psychotherapy using the cognitive behavioral therapy approach. This approach would help the individual recognize automatic thoughts that might be contributing to negative emotions and behaviors and then change those into positive automatic thoughts.

Linda is constantly stressed at work, and her stress impedes her sleep quality, changes her appetite, and causes serious depressive episodes. Each time Linda gets a message from one of her bosses asking to meet, she assumes she knows what it’s about, and her assumption is always catastrophic, the worst possible assumption. She thinks that they are going to fire her, that she’s going to get in trouble for something, or that everyone at work is going to blame her for a group problem. 

With cognitive behavioral therapy, Linda can learn that this is called catastrophizing and mind reading, and she can catch herself in future when she does that and learn to replace her automatic assumptions about the worst possible thing with the recognition that she’s not a mind reader, she doesn’t know what her bosses are thinking, and it doesn’t do her any good to ruminate on it, causing depression, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and appetite changes when she could just as easily wait and see what it is they want to talk about and then choose her actions moving forward.

-Challenges and Limitations 

Knowing an individual psychotherapy definition and benefits doesn’t necessarily mean that you get to enjoy those benefits. There are some challenges and limitations to finding the help you need.

-Cost and Accessibility

For many people, the cost and accessibility are the biggest challenge. Individual therapy sessions can cost hundreds of dollars per hour, and many mental health conditions require long-term treatment that spans the course of several months or years.

However, there are ways that you can apply health insurance benefits to the cost of treatment for mental health disorders. There are also ways that you can find more affordable options by considering virtual tools.

Tangentially, accessibility can be a problem. If you are struggling with bipolar disorder, you need a therapist who specializes in bipolar disorders, not someone who specializes in anxiety disorders. You might not find a qualified therapist in your area, but with virtual tools, you can work with therapists who are located somewhere else and still get the same benefits.

Summing up

What is individual psychotherapy? It’s an opportunity to work with a single therapist in a variety of settings with which you are most comfortable. You get to sit in a private and comfortable space, working through issues or symptoms of mental health disorders. This is a significant part of mental health treatment, and you should strongly consider working with an individual therapist if you are seeking support for your overall well-being.