Talk Therapy: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Sarah Cobarrubias
In this lesson, we will define talk therapy and take a look at the two most common examples of talk therapies. Read on to learn more about this type of treatment as well as psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Talk Therapy Defined

Chances are you're familiar with talk therapy - maybe you or someone you know has gone to see a therapist to talk out issues, whether they're stress, anxiety, depression or relationship problems. Talk therapy, more formally called 'psychotherapy,' refers to a range of treatments that involve discussing mental or emotional issues with a mental health practitioner, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. People who undergo this therapy talk through their emotions, moods, thoughts and behaviors, and they learn about their mental health conditions as well as how to cope with those conditions.

Different types of talk therapy include humanist therapy, group counseling and motivational counseling; however, the two most common examples of talk therapy are psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy. The type of talk therapy that works best depends on the individual and his or her needs.


Sigmund Freud founded psychoanalysis in the late 1800s.
Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis is the brainchild of neurologist Sigmund Freud, who developed this approach to psychology through individual case studies in the late 19th century. Psychoanalysis is based on the notion that your behaviors and symptoms are the results of your unconscious thoughts or motivations and that your development as a person is directly affected by past experiences - particularly childhood experiences. Freud believed that our egos develop defense mechanisms that protect us from difficult emotions, thoughts and experiences by keeping them away from our conscious minds.

According to psychoanalysis, to be cured of conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders, you need to understand and release these repressed emotions, thoughts and experiences (bring them to the conscious mind). An instance of such relief is called catharsis. Techniques common to psychotherapy include ink blot tests, free association (saying whatever word comes to mind in response to another word) and dream analysis.

Ink blot tests (also called Rorschach tests) like this one are commonly used during psychoanalysis to evaluate psychological interpretations of the image contents.
Ink blot test

Many psychologists are critical of the effectiveness of psychoanalysis. As we've discussed, the school of thought relies on individual case studies, which are inherently subjective. Due to the personal and subjective nature of such studies, they cannot be tested or refuted and cannot be generalized to the entire public, and so some believe it is not a scientifically sound approach. Additionally, some believe that psychoanalysis is ineffective or at least less effective than other forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Unlike psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy is not focused on uncovering the underlying causes of your mental or emotional issues. Rather, it's a goal-oriented approach with a focus on how to change the thoughts and behaviors troubling you. The idea is that, if you change your maladaptive thoughts, then your emotions and behaviors will change in a similar fashion. During cognitive behavioral therapy, you'll work with a therapist to understand the cause-and-effect relationships between your emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and you'll learn how to cope with your mental or emotional disorder on a daily basis.

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on relationships between your emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy may involve techniques including exposure therapy, stress inoculation training and relaxation training. Additionally, the treatment process is generally divided into six phases:

  1. Assessment
  2. Reconceptualization (challenging and modifying existing thoughts)
  3. Skills acquisition
  4. Skills consolidation/application
  5. Generalization/maintenance
  6. Follow-up treatment

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