Psychotherapy can come in many forms: some professionals engage in psychoanalytic therapy, others in cognitive behavioral therapy, others use a combination of different approaches and strategies depending on the nature of the issues being addressed. What is most important is a feeling of collaboration with the therapist, trust in the therapist as far as knowing that the patient's best interests are paramount, and trust in the sanctity of the relationship as far as confidentiality, respect, and uninterrupted time.
Psychotherapy can be individual, couple/marital, family, or group. All these situations are a bit different in their goals and approaches. For example, someone looking for individual therapy may be concerned about his or her own behaviors, feelings, and life path and wants to explore these issues in a one-on-one situation with a professional. The therapist's role is to listen, make connections, ask the right questions, and help the individual make better life choices in the long run. In family and couple work the goal is often improving communication and changing dynamics that are not working for the family. The therapist's role is then to get past the filters that so often color how we see and hear each other to help the family members better hear the true intention of the communications and understand each other's points of view. In group therapy people, often with similar issues to conquer, meet together with a therapist. Again, the therapist listens, asks the right questions to prompt discussion, and helps the group members make connections regarding their behaviors. At times the therapist may allow the group to "run itself" with little guidance, since often when people get together with similar concerns they begin to give each other advice and show empathy amongst the group that is different than that exhibited by the therapist. In these cases the therapist may start a topic or hand out an assignment or question and allow the group to move from there, sitting back and simply keeping the group on track and interjecting where necessary.
Still other people may come in for advice on parenting, working with a child professional to deal with situations at home or school with which a parent may feel stuck or frustrated. Parents may bring a child for therapy, and the approach varies with the age of the child and the issues to be addressed. Younger children may talk about their concerns while playing a game or drawing pictures. Picture books, toys, puppets, cards, and other hands-on activities may be used to help the child articulate what he may be too young to easily put into words. Adolescents may want to sit and talk and this age group often opens up easily, as they are used to leaning on their friends for support and being open in social media with friends and acquaintances. Often having an older adult to confide in who is not their parents is enough to help them see that their parents may sometimes have a point! This can help your family get through some of the friction and rebellion that is a normal part of growing up. Sometimes a child therapist even takes a child out of the office in order to take some pressure off and instead have a "chat" during a walk around the block or to get a treat at the candy store in order to make the child feel more comfortable. I have had children call me the "Worry Lady" since that makes more sense to them than this strange kind of doctor who has toys in her office and doesn't give needles.
The decision to enter into psychotherapy is a personal one, one that often takes substantial time to make. You may want to get referrals from others, call a few therapists to get a sense of their styles, and find one that "clicks." You will find yourself telling this person things you may not share with other people; you need to feel comfortable. You also must feel safe that the therapist is not judging you, violating your privacy, or failing to respect the time allotted to your sessions. Finding a therapist who fits the bill can be very easy, or it may take meeting a few people before making a decision. In addition, therapy can be hard at times, since bringing up difficult or painful topics isn't easy for anyone. However, if you put in the effort to find the right therapist and explore the issues in your life, the results of good psychotherapy are worth the effort put in.
****It should be noted that while the title "Psychotherapist" is not a protected title, titles such as "Psychologist," "Clinical Social Worker," and "Mental Health Counselor" (among others) ARE protected titles and those using them must be currently licensed to practice under such nomenclature. Training is different for each professional license, and you should try to find the person who has the best experience to help you with what you need. Licensed practitioners must have their current license on view in the office, or easily accessible for you to see if requested. You can also go to the NYS Education Dept website to check a person's licensure status.*****