Supportive psychotherapy occurs in almost every doctor-patient encounter and is the type of psychotherapy provided to the vast majority of patients who are seen in psychiatric clinics and mental health centers. In fact, supportive psychotherapy has been a part of my residency training in psychiatry. I started during my second year back in July. I thought I’d share a little bit about how it’s going and my journey while I’m learning how to provide this type of care.
I often get asked what supportive psychotherapy truly is, and if it’s just talk therapy where one can vent about their problems and move on. This is a bit of a loaded answer. Supportive psychotherapy is a dyadic treatment that uses direct measures to ameliorate symptoms and to maintain, restore, or improve self-esteem, ego functions, and adaptive skills. Therapeutic alliance is considered to be the most important element of supportive psychotherapy, and trust me when I say this really matters. This is because conscious problems are addressed, and defenses are questioned only when they are maladaptive in a respectful manner. Other important techniques include, but are not limited to, behavior goal setting, encouragement, positive reinforcement, shaping behavior, and modeling.
I’ve had several patients since the start of July. It can be very challenging, but also incredibly rewarding as you see patients get better and no longer need your care. I spend a lot of time focusing on possibilities, remaining objective, seeing things from a bird’s eye view, and goal setting. Otherwise, it can turn into vent sessions without any true goals for improvement. It can truly be life changing in the best way for many, and it allows for perspective.
I’m curious—have you ever heard about supportive psychotherapy? Are you surprised by what it actually entails as described above? Throughout my PGY-2 year, I hope to continue refining my skills and helping patients! I’ll keep you posted on this journey of learning.
Thoughts from a psychiatry resident physician,