Psychotherapy, technically, is anything that a psychotherapist does in their office with clients. In reality, there is a great deal more to what psychotherapy is and what it is all about.
In contrast to what Managed Care has tried to tell clients for many years, it is not only for people who are extremely sick or for the "worried well." Most people can benefit from taking a look at themselves and the various difficulties which we all experience in our lives.
A good psychotherapist will help you to quickly sort out what types of difficulty you are having in your life and whether these problems are amenable to short or long term treatment. There are various techniques and clinical tools that therapists use, from hypnosis to EMDR to cognitive behavioral therapies to experiential therapies.
In short term treatment, specific, here and now problematic thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors are targeted and begun to be addressed by making them conscious and working directly to make changes. Frequently, even if these are very current problems, the therapist will want to know about your family history and any other dynamics which have impacted you significantly. These issues tend to be addressed more intensively in long term therapy.
Regardless of what type of treatment you think you may want or need, it is important for you to find a therapist with whom you can relate. In order to develop a trusting relationship with a therapist, they should be licensed or supervised by someone who is licensed. It is also important to talk with a potential therapist to see if their rationale or approach to therapy makes sense to you. If you are hiring someone to help you make sense of your life, you want to know that they make sense and have competency of their own.
While it may be obvious if you are having severe problems that it makes sense to seek help, many people do not. There is still a stigma in our society that frequently prevents people in need from seeking help. Also, those who aren't in severe need should realize that they don't need to wait until they are miserable to ask for help.
While most people will find a substantial improvement within three to six months of treatment, the more childhood damage and the more serious your diagnosis, the longer the length of treatment is likely to be. For some people suffering from chronic problems, ongoing treatment may be required to help them remain stable.
In general, research shows that most people make significant improvements in their lives and their functioning when they work with a clinician who is trained, experienced and empathic.