Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

The development of formal psychotherapy goes back many centuries. According to the book A Century of Psychology: Progress, Paradigms, and Prospects for the New Millennium, references to psychotherapy-like interventions have been found dating as far back as ancient Greece. In the mid 1800s, an English psychiatrist, Dr. Walter C. Dendy described a form of talking treatment, which was a forerunner of psychotherapy. Group psychotherapy began as an effort to get individuals with tuberculosis to discuss their experiences with caring for themselves, and it was discovered that these individuals benefited from these discussions in ways that transcended mere education.

However, the individual that is most often identified as the founder of modern psychotherapy is the neurologist Sigmund Freud. Freud developed a form of a “talking cure” in the late 1890s and early 1900s, as a method of getting individuals with hysteria, a form of psychopathology where individuals have neurological conditions but no actual physical reason for them, to discuss their experiences and uncover the reasons for their illness. Freud went on to develop the forerunner of modern psychotherapy, and his principles are still commonly practiced in one of the major types of psychotherapy being used today.

Psychotherapy is far more than just sitting around discussing one’s issues with another person. The term therapy is rather loosely defined; however, is generally accepted that therapy occurs when an individual seeks the assistance of a formally trained professional who uses various methods based on psychological principles to assist the person with their problems. The notion of the use of a professional therapist and methods based on established principles can be seen in the American Psychological Association’s formal definition of therapy, which basically states that psychotherapy is an intentional and formalized application of clinical methods that are derived from known psychological principles to assist individuals in changing their thoughts or thinking patterns, feelings, actions, or other characteristics.

Essentially then, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous that are not run by professionally trained therapists and do not operate according to identified psychological principles are not forms of therapy, even though some individuals may find them to be “therapeutic.”

The notion that something is “therapeutic” can range from individual subjective opinions of internal change to actual formal identified professional interventions, such as psychotherapy.

For instance, someone listening to a particular song that they are very fond of may find the experience of listening to the song as “therapeutic” on a number of levels; however, just listening to music is not an established type of therapy based on the formal definition of therapy.