Psychotherapy is a form of medical treatment for emotional and mental illness which attempts to uncover the meanings and the origins of the disorder. Unlike other procedures (which may also be useful)-such as the taking of drugs, changes in the environment, or electroconvulsive treatment-most psychotherapy involves a series of discussions between patient and doctor. Generally the patient discusses his symptoms, his feelings, and many aspects of his personal development. From time to time the psychotherapist may organize and interpret this material in a new and meaningful way. By this process the patient develops insight and, as a result of the deepened understanding he gains of himself, many behavioral changes can follow. One of the key concepts that may emerge is the patient’s understanding of anxiety. It is anxiety experienced early in life which can lead to later difficulties in a person’s behavior-whether in the family, at work, or in the sexual or social areas.
Although with adults it is possible to interchange ideas through talk, this may not be the case with a young child, for whom a type of treatment is used known as “play therapy.” In one form of play therapy, a large number of dolls which can be perceived as parents, children, and pets are made available to the child, and his behavior with them is studied. A skilled child therapist will make available to the child appropriate toys and games to reveal his disturbance. Psychotherapy has been criticized from time to time as being an imperfect instrument: but imperfect or not, it is at present the only instrument available for the treatment of some emotional difficulties in children as well as adults.