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Supportive Therapy

What it is

Supportive therapy focuses on helping patients cope with difficult life situations and moderate stressful symptoms. Rather than attempting to change a patient’s emotional make-up, supportive therapy bolsters the patient’s identity, self-esteem, and general psychological stability.

Who needs it

Supportive therapy can be especially helpful when an otherwise mentally healthy individual suffers a significant life crisis, such as loss of a loved one or a major medical condition.

How it works

The quality of the patient-therapist relationship is one of best predictors of a good response to supportive therapy. The clinician can combine supportive techniques with any other form of psychotherapy, often using supportive therapy at the beginning of a series of sessions to build a relationship. Pure supportive therapy does not explore the patient’s early life experiences. Instead, it targets issues critical to the patient’s ability to function in daily life, ranging from holding a job and paying bills to creating and maintaining relationships and practicing social skills. Therapists reinforce patients’ healthy coping skills and help the patient control unhealthy impulses.

Where to go

Supportive therapy does not require any special training. Either a psychiatrist or any other mental health professional (such as a psychologist or licensed clinical social worker) can perform supportive therapy. Patients interested in supportive therapy can access it either through a referral from a primary care physician or psychiatrist or by directly contacting a clinician.

What to expect

When supportive therapy is used in treating a specific condition, it is usually combined with other types of therapy, so it is difficult to give accurate predictions of how effective it may be. It is most effective at boosting the relationship between the patient and the therapist, who can provide needed emotional support.

What could happen

There is little potential downside to Supportive Therapy aside from the cost. However, insurance companies usually cover supportive therapy (lists of covered therapists are available upon request) but may sometimes require a referral from a physician.

Types of Treatment Options

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References
  1. Hales, R; Yudofsky, S; Roberts, L. (2014) The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, Sixth Edition. Chapter 33. http://dx.doi.org.library.mmc.org/10.1176/appi.books.9781585625031.rh33
  2. Hellerstein DJ, Pinsker H, Rosenthal RN, Klee S. Supportive therapy as the treatment model of choice. J Psychother Pract Res. 1994;3(4):300-6.
  3. Horvath AO, Symonds DB. (1991). Relationship between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38,139–149. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.38.2.139
  4. Misch DA. Basic strategies of dynamic supportive therapy. J Psychother Pract Res. 2000;9(4):173-89.
  5. Douglas CJ. (2008). Teaching supportive psychotherapy to psychiatric residents. Am J Psychiatry. 165(4):445-52. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07121907
  6. Bea SM, Tesar GE. A primer on referring patients for psychotherapy. Cleve Clin J Med. 2002;69(2):113-4, 117-8, 120-2, 125-7.