Talking treatments

Explains what talking treatments are used for, what happens during therapy and how to find a therapist.

Your stories

The importance of choice – access to talking therapies

Al blogs for us about the importance of choice and having access to the right talking therapy to suit you.

Posted on 02/12/2013

Life in limbo – waiting for talking therapy

Francesca blogs about the impact of waiting for talking therapy, as part of our We Need to Talk campaign.

Posted on 28/11/2013

On my therapist, who was always there

Brooke blogs on how important it was for to have one person she could turn to throughout her recovery.

Posted on 09/03/2017

How do talking treatments work?

Talking treatments work by giving you space to talk about your thoughts, feelings and behaviour with someone who is professionally trained to help you understand these things better, and help you find ways to change the things you want to.

On this page you can find information about:

What's the theory behind talking treatments?

Each type of talking treatment has its own theory about why we think and feel the way we do, and how it's best to help you. Broadly speaking, there are two main theory traditions that started in America and Europe.

  • In America, therapists focused on how behaviour and thought patterns affect how we feel, and so developed therapies to help us change our behaviour and thoughts to help us improve how we feel. This includes talking treatments like CBT.
  • In Europe, therapists were interested in the reasons why we think and feel things, and developed therapies to help us understand our thoughts and feelings, and so be better able to cope with them. This includes talking treatments like psychodynamic therapy.

Currently receiving trauma-focused CBT. The most important thing is I know the rationale behind it all, so I know why we're doing what we are doing.

What might I learn in therapy?

What you learn in therapy can be very individual. Some people may find they learn a lot, while others may find therapy less useful. You may learn about:

  • ways of coping – you may learn ways to understand and cope with traumatic memories, upsetting life events, difficult feelings, thoughts or behaviours
  • your thoughts – you may learn to become more aware of your thoughts and how they affect you
  • your feelings – you may feel more able to talk about and understand your feelings
  • relationship difficulties – you may learn to understand difficulties you are having in relationships and ways to make sense of them

Initially I was reluctant and sceptical but it worked. I have learnt to look at situations and my feelings and ruminations in a much healthier, constructive way.

How important is my relationship with my therapist?

Research has shown the relationship you have with your therapist is really important in how successful you find the talking treatment. This therapeutic relationship may help you feel able to open up and talk about things that are difficult or personal to you.

See our page about what happens in a treatment session for more information about the kind of questions you can ask your therapist and what you can expect from them.

I've been seeing my therapist for over a year now. She is a wonderful lady! I do think half the battle with therapy is finding someone you trust, connect with and feel comfortable with.

How long until I feel better?

The time it takes for you to feel better can be individual to you, and may vary from person to person. You may feel an immediate sense of relief when you begin therapy. This might be because you are being listened to for the first time, or because you have been struggling for a long time.

You may also feel anxious or distressed at first. This may be because you have to focus on difficult feelings that you might prefer to ignore. You may find it helpful to discuss any concerns you have about how you are reacting to the therapy – at any stage.

Therapy can only help someone go as deep or as far as they want to. Addressing the root cause of things can take time and the person has to be ready to do that.

Can therapy make me feel worse?

Therapy can be challenging and upsetting. It can involve talking about difficult situations and painful feelings, which might make you feel worse in the short term. You may find this process can also be physically tiring.

If you do start to feel worse, you might find this frustrating and disappointing if you're not reacting to your treatment as you'd hoped. If you do feel worse you can:

  • Talk to your therapist openly about how you are feeling or how you work together. This could help you get the most from your therapy and get extra support if you need it.
  • Contact your therapist for emergency support out of appointments, if this is something your therapist offers. Remember to check with them in advance if this is okay.
  • Call a listening service, like the Samaritans. They can listen to anything that is upsetting you.
  • Try online peer support for extra support in between sessions. Mind runs its own online support community, Elefriends. If you're using the internet for support for your mental health, take a look at our pages on how to keep yourself safe online.
  • Contact a crisis service if you feel you need urgent help. See our pages on crisis services for more information on what options there are and when to use them.


This information was published in February 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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