Individual therapy (sometimes called “psychotherapy” or “counseling”) is a process through which clients work one-on-one with a trained therapist—in a safe, caring, and confidential environment—to explore their feelings, beliefs, or behaviors, work through challenging or influential memories, identify aspects of their lives that they would like to change, better understand themselves and others, set personal goals, and work toward desired change.
People seek therapy for a wide variety of reasons, from coping with major life challenges or childhood trauma, to dealing with depression or anxiety, to simply desiring personal growth and greater self-knowledge. A client and therapist may work together for as few as five or six sessions or as long as several years, depending on the client’s unique needs and personal goals for therapy.
In individual therapy the issues are brought forth with one therapist listening and responding to the concerns. The type of feedback that is given, or if feedback is given, is dependent on the therapist’s training. The highly personal nature of the exchange between the therapist and the client allows for specific focus on the issues presented. While the dynamics of the relationship between the therapist and client are typically considered important, they can often take a while to emerge before they can have a therapeutic effect.
But some short-term therapies, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), do not rely on the therapeutic relationship or the dynamics between the therapist and client. These therapies are usually very brief, and treat symptom specific problems. The therapist is more of a technical expert, and the relationship between the therapist and client is usually not part of the therapeutic equation.
In psychodynamically oriented therapy the work revolves around understanding the forces, such as those in the family of origin and other intimate relationships, as a way of determining how to approach the need for change. This is when the therapist-client relationship can be used to understand some of the issues present. Transference, the shift of feelings from a previous relationship onto the therapist, is an example of this approach.