Notice that this question starts not with the “what” but with the “who”. How psychotherapy works is unlike in other medical fields, in which the doctor does the healing “work” while the patient lies restfully and tries to recuperate from his symptoms. In psychotherapy the therapists functions to support the patient in his/her efforts to alleviate his/her own symptoms.
The beauty of a successful outcome in psychotherapy is that it happens, it is permanent, and it leads the patient to a far better quality of life.
This means that the patient’s input is essential to the outcome. It is the skill of the therapist to lead the patient to this engagement. There are many techniques that can be employed, and hence many kind of therapies. However these methods are essentially means to guide the patient towards the motivation and awareness of him/herself. The ultimate work happens when there is contact between the client to him/herself and to the therapist. This contact takes effort on the part of the therapist to nurture, and when it happens, the patient feels a “shift” in his/herself. This shift is an indication the something internal has changed.
This may sound abstract, and it is. Psychotherapy is a craft and a skill learned. To be a psychotherapeutic client with successful outcome is also learnt. The beauty of a successful outcome in psychotherapy is that it happens, it is permanent, and it leads the patient to a far better quality of life.
That is the goal of therapy: to relieve psychological or somatic symptoms through dialogue and contact. A patient suffering debilitating panic attacks, for example, slowly learns the psychological process and childhood experiences behind these attacks. The therapist supports him/her into contacting his/her unconscious activity and past emotions and unmet needs. In receiving this contact, the therapist works with the client through these experiences. The client is then able to make meaning of these experiences and learns to find resources to deal with pending situations.
So, who is psychotherapy for? It is for anyone who needs clarity in his/her life. He/she does not need to be “sick” or “dysfunctional” to start therapy. In actuality, it is better (and also cost-effective) to enter therapy as a healthy, stressed out, panicky individual, than to wait till the stress becomes too overwhelming.