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Treatment of Psychological Disorders



The treatment of psychological disorders can occur either in institutional settings, where clients are temporarily or permanently hospitalized, or in a variety of outpatient settings. Deinstitutionalization, beginning in the 1960s, sought to reintegrate people with mental health problems back into their communities, but many with severe mental illness were unable to receive the help they needed. Mental health care providers may use insight, behavioral, cognitive, or cognitive-behavioral therapies to help people with psychological disorders, and psychiatrists can prescribe drugs for certain types of illness. In general, all forms of talk therapy are superior to going without treatment, but not all forms of treatment are equally beneficial. For most disorders, therapeutic approaches that teach clients specific skills for managing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors produce the best results.

At A Glance

  • The discovery of antipsychotics along with the rise of the community mental health movement led to deinstitutionalization of mental patients, which has had mixed results.
  • Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on generating insight into unconscious motivations and unhelpful defense mechanisms.
  • Humanistic therapy provides nonjudgmental support and genuine empathy in a client-directed process.
  • Behavioral therapy focuses on changing maladaptive behaviors rather than identifying past causes of psychological problems.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches clients specific skills for managing unhelpful patterns of thoughts and changing behaviors.
  • Medications can successfully treat a range of mental health problems, often by altering neurotransmitter release or brain activity. Side effects can be uncomfortable or dangerous and can lead people to stop using medications.
  • While most psychosurgery has been discontinued, new methods of electroconvulsive therapy and brain stimulation are sometimes used to treat severe psychiatric symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy may be delivered by clinical or counseling psychologists, psychiatric nurses, clinical social workers, and psychiatrists and psychoanalysts.
  • Nonspecific factors such as offering empathy or instilling hope play a role in all forms of treatment. However, not all forms of treatment are equally effective. Behavior therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapies typically produce the strongest results, particularly for anxiety, disruptive behavior, sexual dysfunction, and autism.