Talking therapy

There are many helpful forms of therapies. One of the types of therapies used in helping with mental health difficulties is called “talking therapies”. Some people refer to talking therapy as psychological therapy or counselling. Talking therapies can help you work out how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings and make positive changes. They can help people who are feeling distressed by difficult events in their lives as well as people with a mental health problem.

We often find it helpful to talk problems through with a friend or family member, but sometimes friends and family cannot help us and we need to talk to a professional therapist. Talking therapies involve talking to someone who is trained to help you deal with your negative feelings. They can help anyone who is experiencing distress.

Talking therapies give people the chance to explore their thoughts and feelings and the effect they have on their behaviour and mood. Describing what’s going on in your head and how that makes you feel can help you notice any patterns which it may be helpful to change. It can help you work out where your negative feelings and ideas come from and why they are there.

Understanding all this can help people make positive changes by thinking or acting differently. Talking therapies can help people to take greater control of their lives and improve their confidence.

What is it like to have a talking therapy and when can it be helpful?

The length of a therapy varies depending on what type it is and on your individual needs. Some people have just a few sessions. A course of CBT, for instance, is usually between six and 20 sessions, with each session following a structured agenda. In contrast, a client receiving counselling is encouraged to talk freely and the course of therapy may be extended depending on the client's progress.

Talking therapies are not therapies that are 'done' to you by someone else. You play an active part in the therapy. That can be empowering at a time when you may feel you have lost control over part of your life. If you are determined to get the most from the therapy, it is more likely to work.

Talking therapies require you to be completely honest with yourself and that can be difficult. It may mean facing up to your fears, recalling distressing memories or talking about intimate topics and private thoughts and feelings.  There may be tasks to do between sessions, such as trying out new ways of behaving or keeping a diary. It may be a while until you feel the results, but you get out what you put in.

What kinds of talking therapy are there?

Different talking therapies are called a confusing mix of names and some therapies have several names. Don’t let the jargon put you off! Behind every technical term is a way of working with people that is designed to help. Therapies are usually divided into several broad types. But even therapists who offer the same kind of therapy will have a slightly different way of working from each other because all therapists have a personal style as well.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends certain therapies for certain problems, but other therapies might work for you just as well. The NHS Choices website provides a helpful summary of the various kinds of talking therapies. You can read more about them here.

Psychological Wellbeing Service (IAPT)

Our Psychological Wellbeing Service offers evidence-based therapies approved by NICE including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).  We are also able to refer you to other approaches to talking therapy if these might be more helpful.

The page was last updated on 02 December 2015 by Adrian Jackson.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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