What is therapy?


          I thought about what may be the best way to describe therapy, what function it can have in our lives, and all together why it may be important at all. I think there is no universal description as there are many theories out there (and different therapists would possibly describe therapy in different ways) and some of them point towards different directions. However, most definitions have something in common. In this section, I will briefly describe therapy in two ways: first, by using a more scientific description, and then by using my own ideas.


          So, let’s see what some researchers have to say about the matter.


path in the woods with crossroads signs pointing different directions

An earlier definition

          In a study¹ from 1998, researchers described psychotherapy as a type of intervention that helps clients to improve on certain areas in their lives. For such improvement to happen, they say, a collaboration is needed between client and therapist. If they manage to work together, the client can function ‘better’ in certain areas in their life such as the way they think, feel and behave.

According to this study, the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist is essential for achieving a positive outcome.

A contemporary definition

          Some researchers, in a 2019 study², thought that the aim of psychotherapy is for the client to feel better [of course!], to think more flexibly and to function better as well. In this study, the researchers put more emphasis on personal meaning as they thought that if a client understands their personal experiences more (they attach meaning to their experiences), then that can lead to a positive therapeutic change.


          Both of these definitions describe a similar goal to therapy: the client to feel better in general. However, they identify different routes to get to the same ‘finish line’. The earlier definition emphasized the therapeutic relationship, while the more recent study focused more on the meaning the client attaches to their personal experiences.

These are only two examples and we can imagine that there are plenty more similar definitions out there (not to mention the many different types of therapy). However, different definitions and different approaches have the same goal in common: to benefit the client.

So, what is therapy?

In my personal opinion, therapy is an intelligent way of looking after ourselves. I think when we have certain needs, we attempt to do something to satisfy those needs. For example, do we go to a hairdresser/barber for maintaining our hair? Do we go to a beautician to refresh the way we look? Do we watch our favourite show(s) because watching it makes us feel better? Do we read a book to quench our hunger for knowledge? Do we do something because we expect it to be good for us? In many cases the answer is yes to these questions. Therefore, I describe therapy as an intelligent way of taking care of an emotional/psychological need.

So, what are the signs to be aware of?

¹Brent, D. A., & Kolko, D. J. (1998). Psychotherapy: Definitions, mechanisms of action, and relationship to etiological models. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26(1), 17–25. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022678622119
²Locher, C., Meier, S., & Gaab, J. (2019). Psychotherapy: A world of meanings. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(MAR). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00460