The Role Of A Mental Health Therapist

Updated April 8, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team

Most people know when they need to go to a medical practitioner for a health problem. Whether it’s your primary care physician, OBGYN, dermatologist, or eye doctor, it is usually pretty easy to figure out when you need to see someone for help with a physical ailment. But what about when you need help with your mental health? 

The stigma surrounding mental health may prevent people from seeking help, and many may not know what mental health therapists do. It’s easy to assume that therapy is only for people with severe mental health concerns, but it can help anyone going through a tough time. 

Whether you’re experiencing trauma, feeling down, having trouble getting motivated, or going through a divorce, a mental health therapist can help you learn how to manage your thoughts and feelings and give you the coping skills you need to work through any difficult times ahead.

Don’t be afraid to seek help for your mental health

What is a therapist?

A mental health therapist is trained to understand how the human mind works. They understand how different events in your life or how a mental illness can affect your thoughts and behaviors. When you attend therapy, your mental health therapist will help you understand these things and learn the coping skills to overcome them. Mental health therapists can specialize in a variety of approaches to therapy, but they are not limited to using only one method. A therapist may choose different elements of treatment depending on their client’s individual circumstances.

Who can a mental health therapist help? 

The truth is that just about anyone can benefit from speaking to a mental health therapist. You do not need a diagnosable mental health condition to talk to someone. Sometimes, you might be going through something temporary that you’re struggling to cope with, like a divorce or losing your job, and talking to someone can help. Or, maybe you’re having emotions or exhibiting abnormal behaviors and need help figuring out what’s happening. If you’re struggling to cope or noticing changes in your mental health that you can’t explain, a therapist is there to help.

What is therapy? 

Therapy is short for psychotherapy, an approach to treating mental health issues through talking with a qualified professional. There are many forms of therapy, but they all involve learning about the symptoms you’re experiencing and determining how your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors affect your life. From there, you and your therapist work on developing coping mechanisms so that you can deal with challenges as you move forward.

There are many reasons people seek out therapy, including: 

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Depression

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Addiction

  • Eating disorders

  • Personality disorders

  • Schizophrenia

But you do not have to have any of these conditions to speak to a therapist. For example, therapy can help you do the following: 

  • Manage stress related to work

  • Learn how to resolve conflicts

  • Work on anger management

  • Cope with significant life changes, like a death in the family or a divorce

  • Come to terms with a new medical diagnosis

  • Process abuse or trauma from the past

Many professions can also be considered mental health therapists, including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed mental health counselors, mental health nurse practitioners, licensed marriage and family therapists, and licensed clinical social workers. Each of these professions undergoes different types of training and has its own unique approach to helping people in therapy.


Types of therapy

There are multiple approaches to therapy that your mental health therapist might use, including the following:

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy

These approaches focus on changing unwanted thoughts and behaviors by focusing on unconscious motivations. Sessions focus on increasing self-understanding and gaining insight into the inner conflicts that underlie any emotional conflicts or defense mechanisms. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy are based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, but they have been modified and significantly expanded.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on how people learn both normal and abnormal behaviors. It is built on multiple forms of conditioning, including classical conditioning, desensitizing, and operant conditioning. 

Cognitive therapy

This approach focuses more on what people think than what they do. It is based on the belief that dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional behaviors or emotions and that people can change these things by changing their thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy combines behavioral and cognitive therapy. It is based on several principles, including the idea that many mental health problems are based on unhelpful thinking and that people can learn better ways of coping with their problems. CBT focuses on gaining a better understanding of the thoughts behind the behaviors and using problem-solving to cope with different challenges. 

Humanistic therapy

This approach to therapy centers on people’s capacity to develop their maximum potential by making rational choices. It is based on many themes, including the importance of being in the here and now, accepting responsibility for yourself, and searching for meaning in life.

How to get the most out of therapy

Before starting therapy, knowing how to make it work for you is important. The most vital part of any therapy is to be open and honest with your mental health therapist. You must also be committed to putting in the effort and doing the work. Remember that your therapist is not there to pass judgment; their job is to listen and help you understand your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

During your sessions, your therapist may ask you direct questions, or they may encourage you to speak freely about whatever is on your mind. You might talk about things in the past that are affecting how you think, feel, and act in the present, or you may discuss the recent changes in your life that have made you seek support. The approach your therapist takes will depend on their specialty and your personal circumstances.

Don’t be afraid to seek help for your mental health

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Everyone can use some extra support sometimes. Whether you’re going through a life change, having feelings of self-doubt, or experiencing changes in your thoughts and behavior, talking to a therapist can help you figure out how to navigate these challenges. 

If talking to someone face-to-face feels too intimidating, or if you’re just looking for an alternative approach, consider online therapy. When you sign up, you can be matched with an available professional in as little as 48 hours so you can get started as soon as possible. You don’t have to worry about being on a waiting list for an available appointment slot, and because you attend sessions from home (or anywhere you have an internet connection), there’s no commute, either. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective, too. In fact, one comparison of 14 studies found that online treatment is just as effective as in-person treatment. If you’re ready to take the next step, connect with an online therapist at BetterHelp to get started.


Mental health therapists are qualified to help people with various mental health issues, from PTSD to anxiety to difficulties dealing with life changes. Don’t let the stigma surrounding mental health stop you from getting the help you need.

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