Therapy 101: A Brief Look at Modern Psychotherapy Techniques and How They Can Help


You’re feeling sad, anxious, or angry all the time, and you’re thinking about seeing a therapist. But there’s one problem: You don’t know the first thing about therapists or whatever it is they get up to in those dimly lit offices. You ask your friends, your HMO, you thumb through the phonebook—but there are as many opinions as there are MFTs, LCSWs, and Ph.D.s waiting to add you to their appointment books. What are you, the curious and confused, to do?

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Therapy 101: A Brief Look at Modern Psychotherapy Techniques and How They Can Help

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You’re feeling sad, anxious, or angry all the time, and you’re thinking about seeing a therapist. But there’s one problem: You don’t know the first thing about therapists or whatever it is they get up to in those dimly lit offices. You ask your friends, your HMO, you thumb through the phonebook—but there are as many opinions as there are MFTs, LCSWs, and Ph.D.s waiting to add you to their appointment books. What are you, the curious and confused, to do?

Don’t panic! Therapy 101 can guide you through the twists and turns of the mental health maze. You’ll learn about the different kinds of mental health professionals and the services they offer. You’ll explore the various kinds of therapy and learn which therapies are best for which problems. Filled with curious and entertaining tidbits about the colorful history of psychology, Therapy 101 is as entertaining as it is informative. With this book in your back pocket, you’ll be able to make the most of your time on the couch.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572245686
  • Publisher: New Harbinger Publications
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Series: Unassigned Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey C. Wood, PsyD, lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. He specializes in cognitive behavioral treatments for depression, anxiety, and trauma, as well as assertiveness and life-skills coaching. He can be reached at He is author of Getting Help.

Minnie Wood, NP, is an adult nurse practitioner. She is a primary care provider at a community health center in San Francisco where she also provides case management services to patients with chronic pain, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

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Read an Excerpt

Why You Need This Book

There are many reasons why we—Minnie and Jeff (your authors)—think that you should read this book. Nearly every day, we meet people who need help with their mental health problems, but they don’t know where to start. Sometimes their problems are very serious, like depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, and other times they’re normal, everyday issues that affect everyone (even us), like changes in jobs, relationship issues, stress, or worries about the future. Any of these people’s stories would make a good introduction to this book.

But just as we started to write Therapy 101, Jeff had the following conversation with one of his clients, and we think it serves as a pretty good example of why this book is important. Here’s what happened to Jeff:

“Recently, one of my new clients looked at me with a funny expression when I told him that there were well over one hundred different kinds of psychotherapies. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

“I explained that not every therapist was going to tell him to lie down on the couch and talk about his experience growing up, as we often see on television.

“He looked even more confused. Apparently, that was the only kind of treatment he was familiar with. ‘So which one are we going to use?’ he asked.

“‘That depends on what’s bothering you,’ I responded.”

Jeff explained to his client that there’s no one cure-all therapy, no single psychological treatment that’s effective for every problem. The type of treatment your therapist uses should be determined by the types of symptoms you’re struggling with. At least, it should when you’re working with a competent mental health professional. Unfortunately, there are some incompetent professionals out there who are more than willing to use the same treatment on every problem—and client—who walks into the office.

Imagine your primary care provider (PCP) doing the same thing, and whether you came in with a broken leg or a bad rash, your PCP gave you the same treatment. You’d never go back and you’d probably never get better. But most people know even less about psychotherapy than they do about medical treatments, which is why we wrote this book, to educate you, the consumer, about what you can expect when you go looking for therapy.

But let’s get back to the client who walked into Jeff’s office that day. “He told me that he was having some aches and pains in his shoulders and stomach and many anxious thoughts that preoccupied him most of the time. He worried about everything in his own life, many things in his friends’ lives, and a few things in the lives of people he had never even met. It sounded like he was struggling with generalized anxiety disorder, a common form of anxiety that affects millions of people around the world but a problem that is also very treatable.

So, after he told me a little more about the problems he was having, I suggested that we use acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and maybe some biofeedback. I explained that ACT is a form of behavior therapy that uses mindfulness skills and explores a person’s values and goals to help create a more fulfilling life. I also explained that biofeedback uses instruments to measure a person’s physiological responses to stress so that he can learn to measure and control those responses and, hopefully, his stress too.

He said that he’d been in therapy for fifteen years before, and no one had ever talked to him about what he was going to do. I apologized for all those therapists who came before me.

‘Why didn’t they explain these things to me?’ he asked.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know.”

We don’t think therapists keep secrets from their patients to be mean, but we do think that some therapists, practicing some kinds of psychotherapy, don’t explain the process of what’s happening during the treatment because they don’t want to “show their cards.” That is, they think that if the patient knows what they, the therapists, are trying to accomplish, it will spoil the process. We disagree with this idea and so do many other psychotherapists.

Again, imagine walking into your PCP’soffice with a broken leg and she doesn’t tell you what she’s going to do. Instead, she just nods her head and listens to you talk about “how” you broke your leg and tells you nothing about what you can do to help it heal. Wouldn’t that make you angry? And yet, despite the fact that there are dozens of very effective psychological treatments for most mental health problems, there are still some therapists who don’t use these treatments. That’s why you need this book!

We all need to become educated consumers of psychological treatments. The time has come to demystify psychological therapy and to let you know what treatment works for your particular problem so you can go out and get it.

In just this little book, we’ve described approximately fifty of the most common forms of therapy, so you’ll know what to expect when you walk through the door of a mental health professional’s office. But even more importantly, we’ve also included a list at the end of each description of a particular therapy highlighting the problems it’s effective for treating, based on the findings of research studies.

Before you begin reading about the different kinds of treatments, we thought it would also be useful to give you a quick overview of some common mental health problems. These are the problems for which people most often seek treatment. So let’s take a look at some problems that might bring you into a therapist’s office in the first place.

Some Common and Treatable Mental Health Problems

Millions of adults and children—in the United States and worldwide—suffer with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Sadly, however, many of them never get the help they need. Some of them might not have access to care and some just can’t afford care. Others might be afraid of the perceived stigma attached to being in therapy or using psychiatric medications. But we would bet those others just don’t know there are effective psychological treatments for their problems.

Whatever the reason, not getting into therapy when you need it can be very damaging to your life. In 2005, Philip Wang and colleagues jointly published a study of over nine thousand people, revealing that some of them had waited as long as twenty-three years before seeking help for their mental health problems. That’s a lot of unnecessary suffering, especially since it’s been estimated that almost half the population of the United States will struggle with a mental health problem at some point in their lives.

Why suffer with something that’s causing you pain when many of the psychological treatments found in this book have been proven effective for most of these problems? Haven’t you suffered long enough?

The problems are not arranged in any particular order, although anxiety and mood disorders are definitely the most common. While you’re reading, be aware that these descriptions are very brief and by no means complete, so don’t diagnose yourself with a mental health problem based solely on these descriptions. Only a trained mental health professional can help you do that. Rather, use these simple descriptions to help you recognize what your problem—or someone else’s—might be, so you can use that information to point you in the direction of finding the right treatment. Also, be aware that it’s possible, and even likely, that you are struggling with more than one of these problems at the same time, which makes it even more important for you to find the correct treatment.

Anxiety Disorders

Of all the mental health problems, anxiety disorders are the most common. In 2001, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that they affect approximately 18 percent of the adult population every year and approximately 29 percent of all adults at any point in their lives.

Panic disorder is characterized by extremely powerful feelings of fear and anxiety that can quickly overwhelm you. These panic attacks include the physical symptoms of rapid heart rate, hyperventilating, and feeling faint, and they often last ten to fifteen minutes. They are also frequently accompanied by agoraphobia, or a fear of leaving home.

A specific phobia is an intense, overwhelming, irrational fear of something identifiable, such as an animal, insect, situation, or place. Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is an intense fear of being humiliated in front of other people.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by uncontrollable, disturbing thoughts and urges called obsessions, which make you feel extremely anxious. Then, in response, you might perform repetitious, time-consuming behaviors called compulsions to relieve the anxiety.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious set of problems that occurs after you experience a potentially life-threatening event, such as rape, war, crime, a natural disaster, or an accident. Symptoms often include flashbacks, nightmares, heightened agitation, heightened awareness, thoughts about death, difficulty sleeping, and avoidance of people or related circumstances.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by an excessive number of unmanageable worries that don’t go away, and it’s often accompanied by difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and muscle tension (especially in the head, neck, shoulders, jaw, or stomach).

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are the second most common subset of mental health problems, affecting approximately 10 percent of the adult ­population every year and approximately 21 percent of all adults at any point in their lives. Currently, major depression is the most disabling mental health problem in the world. However, the World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, major depression will be the leading cause of disability among all mental and physical health problems both for women and for people living in developing countries.

Major depression is characterized by excessive feelings of sadness, a lack of pleasure in your life, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping (sleeping too much or too little), low levels of energy, unexpected changes in weight, and possibly thoughts about dying or suicide.

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is characterized by excessively energetic or irritable moods called manic episodes. During a manic episode, you might feel excessively happy, restless, self-confident, impulsive, or distracted, and you might have trouble sleeping. You might also experience periods of depression in between manic episodes.

Drug and Alcohol Problems

Drug and alcohol problems account for another large portion of mental health problems, affecting approximately 4 percent of the adult population every year and approximately 15 percent of all adults at any point in their lives. Such related problems are usually defined in two different ways. Substance abuse is a troubling pattern of drug or alcohol use characterized by the use of the substance interfering with your work, school, home life, or relationships; drinking or using drugs in potentially dangerous situations (such as while driving); and continuing to drink or use despite related reoccurring legal problems.

Substance dependence, a more serious problem, also includes the development of tolerance to the effects of the drugs or alcohol, ­symptoms of withdrawal that occur if you stop drinking or using, an inability to cut down or control your use, as well as spending a large amount of time involved with your drinking or using drugs.

Relationship and Family Problems

It’s impossible to know for sure how many people in the world are struggling with relationship and family problems, but a conservative estimate is that anyone who’s ever had a family or a relationship has probably had a problem. (Does that leave anyone out?)

However, many serious relationship and family problems occur in marriages, domestic partnerships, couples, and families due to a variety of difficulties. These often include problems communicating effectively; expressing emotions; expressing needs; coping with the mental health problems of a spouse, partner, or family member; or as the result of long-standing patterns or habits established earlier in life.

Personality Disorders

A personality disorder is a long-standing style of behavior that interferes with your job, relationships, and social situations, or causes you great emotional distress. Approximately 15 percent of all adults struggle with a personality disorder.

Someone with avoidant personality disorder puts off making decisions because he or she is afraid of being criticized by others for making a “wrong” decision. People with antisocial personality disorder manipulate and abuse others for their own purposes, lie to get what they want, show little concern for the safety of others, and might even be violent or destructive.

Someone with borderline personality disorder experiences frequent and painful mood swings, great difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, problems controlling spontaneous and reckless behavior, and a fluctuating sense of self.

A person with dependent personality disorder is afraid of making decisions without the constant assistance and approval of other people. Those struggling with histrionic personality disorder often try to be the center of attention, exaggerate their emotions and the importance of relationships, and exhibit rapidly shifting emotions.

Someone who is described as having narcissistic personality disorder thinks that he or she has many more exceptional qualities than other people, expects to be treated in a special way because of a sense of entitlement, and often shows little empathy for others.

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder have rigid, internal demands for organization, control, and precision. Those suffering with paranoid personality disorder have a deep mistrust of other people and their motives, which makes it very difficult to form and maintain relationships.

A person who has schizoid personality disorder is not interested in developing social contacts or relationships and often prefers to be alone. People with schizotypal personality disorder are often seen as being eccentric or odd in the way they think, dress, speak, or behave, and they experience difficulty maintaining relationships despite wanting to have social connections.


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Table of Contents



Treatments Supported by Research

Exciting, Newer Treatments

Humanistic Treatments

Insight-Oriented Treatments

Unconventional (But Effective) Treatments

Treatments for More Than One Person at a Time

Good Health

A Final Word About Medications

Famously Failed Therapies

Further Reading and References

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