Have you ever made an appointment with a psychotherapist? It's a scary thing to do, and that first meeting is never easy. Even as time goes on, you might feel sometimes like you're just spinning your wheels in every session, since the balm for your neuroses doesn't really come all at once. But we have good news. A new meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin suggests that therapy works — no matter what kind of therapy it is.

A Little Better, All The Time

Personality isn't entirely static, but it's not the most pliable thing in the world either. If you're very outgoing and adventurous in your 20s, you'll probably be the same in your 30s and 40s. Age and life experiences will take their toll as well, and as you grow older it's likely that you'll grow more self-confident, more controlled, and more emotionally stable. That's great news for everyone who's moving forward in time. But this new meta-analysis suggests that if time isn't changing you fast enough, a trip to the doctor might.

The researchers squared their focus on what's known as the "Big Five" of personality traits: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (collectively known as OCEAN). Therapy was particularly useful in altering neurotic tendencies. Neuroticism tends to decrease as you age from young adulthood into middle age, but just four weeks of therapy was enough to affect about half of the average lifetime shift towards a calmer mind. Therapy had a pretty significant effect on Extraversion as well, and a smaller effect on Conscientiousness and Agreeableness. Only changes to Openness to experiences were inconsistent across the 207 this meta-analysis amalgamated.

Most interestingly of all, the study spans multiple types of psychotherapy, so when it comes to choosing a doctor, you should find one who practices a style that makes you comfortable — when it comes to effectiveness, they're all pretty similar.

Help Comes In Many Flavors

The thing is, the actual style your psychotherapist practice isn't often high on the list of qualities you look for — it's certainly lower than if they're on your insurance or not, and it all depends on if you even know the difference between them. So we thought we'd demystify the different varieties and ease the process along.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The current reigning champ of psychotherapy, CBT focuses, as you might guess, on both thoughts and behaviors. This might take a couple of different forms. Your therapist could help you process difficult thoughts and emotions, and encourage more healthy ones instead with the goal of altering your behavior. But they might also encourage you to alter your behavior first, for example, suggesting that a person with social anxiety attend a crowded event with an eye towards changing the harmful thought processes. A lot of emphasis is placed on understanding your thought processes and either overcoming them or using them to your advantage. CBT is often recommended for anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy has fallen a bit out of favor these days, but its roots go all the way back to Freud. In this sort of practice, the patient is encouraged to explore the relationship between their conscious and their unconscious mind, with many unconscious thoughts being linked to early childhood experiences. The therapist may also emphasize mental and behavioral patterns, and help the patient uncover the underlying reasons for repeating these patterns. The entire process is generally regarded as being slower than CBT, and thus it can be a bit harder to find an insurance company that covers it. It's recommended for patients with generalized anxiety disorders and depression.

Person-Centered Therapy

Person-centered therapy sets itself apart from the other two varieties by having a lot less structure and putting a lot more emphasis on the relationship between the patient and the therapist. The patient is encouraged to work through their thoughts on their own time, with only a little guidance. One of the main advantages of this sort of work is that it de-emphasizes the "authority" aspect of the therapist in favor of reminding the patient that we're all human beings with our own ways of processing. It's often recommended for people who haven't been diagnosed with anything but do suffer low self-esteem, body image issues, and relationship problems.

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For more on the benefits of therapy, check out "The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients" by renowned psychiatrist Dr. Irvin D. Yalom. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas September 13, 2017

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