If you're considering going to therapy, you'll have many different types to choose from. In fact, some researchers believe that there are more types of psychotherapy offered in the world today than a person can even count. And the number continues to rise. So how are you supposed to know which kind of counseling you need? Does the type of psychotherapy you choose even matter?
Finding the right type of therapy for you may be just as important as finding the right therapist. You can explore this catalog of psychotherapy options to learn more about the different types and find one that can offer you the support you're looking for.
The 5 Main Types of Psychotherapy
People have been interested in self-improvement and emotional regulation for decades. Some people believe that the practice of therapy dates back to ancient Greece. Others claim that therapy as we know it was not developed until the end of the 18th century.
Psychotherapy itself stems from five different schools of thought. These core types of therapy take varied approaches to maintaining mental health. For example, some focus on thought patterns while others focus specifically on behaviors. In addition, some forms of therapy support the idea that the best way to resolve conflict is to focus on the present, while others insist that a person's past needs to be explored.
The more you know about the different types of therapy, the more empowered you might feel to seek the help that's right for you. You can use this information to educate yourself about different therapy options that are available and find a therapist that's a good fit.
Psychoanalysis was created by Sigmund Freud in the 20th century. It revolves around the idea that people are like icebergs. Most of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors result from their unconscious self that lies beneath the surface.
This approach focuses on a person's past life experiences, trauma, internal conflicts, and behavioral impulses. Then, these elements are analyzed to help people understand how and why they are impacting them in the present. After these associations are made, people can begin to resolve their connections to the past and change their behaviors.
Psychoanalysis can include:
- Free Association - This practice allows a person to speak their mind without censorship or judgment. It can help uncover inhibited thoughts, opinions, and memories that may be influencing their present-day behaviors.
- Dream Analysis - Just like the name suggests, this technique involves the interpretation of dreams by analyzing symbols and exploring underlying meanings.
- Resistances Analysis - This practice studies resistance as a sign of defense and places it into three categories known as conscious, id, and repression. Then, these oppositions are studied to discover why a person experiences them.
Behavior therapy, also called conditioning therapy, aims to change unhelpful behavior patterns and reduce negative symptoms a person might be experiencing. As the name suggests, this type of therapy focuses mainly on a person's behaviors rather than on a person's thoughts or past experiences.
This type of therapy also explores the contributing factors for behaviors. For example, it takes into account factors like the environment where the behaviors most commonly occur, as well as the people that are typically present.
Some elements of behavior therapy include:
- Behavior Rehearsal - This technique enhances social skills by demonstrating new behavior patterns and methods of communication. Then, people are given time to practice the skills in sessions before using them in the real world.
- Modeling - Modeling, also called behavior modeling, is a learning strategy based on observation and imitation. It involves seeing an example and then trying to emulate the behavior on your own.
- Systematic Desensitization - This strategy is used to reduce anxiety through deep muscle relaxation and exposure to anxiety-provoking situations. It helps build a person's resilience by exposing them to low-anxiety situations, and gradually working up to ones that create high amounts of anxiety.
This form of therapy operates around the idea that negative thought patterns and distortions create unhelpful emotions and behaviors. In this type of therapy, people monitor their thoughts and gradually learn to change them into more helpful ones.
In addition, cognitive therapy challenges people to evaluate the way they view the world and potentially change their perceptions. During sessions, providers prompt people to find evidence that supports or contradicts their thoughts and perceptions. Then, people can evaluate the evidence and decide for themselves if there is enough to support their original ways of thinking.
Some elements of cognitive therapy include:
- Cognitive Restructuring - This technique helps people discover, monitor, and dispute negative thoughts they may have about themselves or the world. Then, they are taught how to change their thoughts into more helpful ones.
- Understanding Thought Distortions - Thought distortions are inaccurate beliefs or perceptions that people may hold. Cognitive therapy teaches various distortions and then helps people check their thoughts to see if they fall into one of the unhelpful thinking patterns.
This type of therapy is aimed at helping people achieve a sense of personal growth. During sessions, people are able to explore real-world experiences that are focussed on developing their potential.
Humanistic therapy also helps people center their thoughts on the present and regulate their emotions. In addition, it allows people to develop a sense of responsibility over their actions, change unhelpful aspects of their personality, and develop a sense of self-trust.
Some examples of humanistic therapies include:
- Client-Centered Therapy - Client-centered therapy creates a client-therapist relationship that is based on consistent empathy, understanding, and respect. The therapist discovers the way a client views the world, and then helps the client shift unhelpful perspectives, resolve conflict, manage their feelings, and change their approach to life to better suit their needs.
- Gestalt Therapy - This form of therapy focuses on how a person feels and functions in the present, rather than exploring elements of their past. One of the core principles is that a person achieves growth through assimilating to their environment, which is done through personality growth and self-awareness.
- Existential Psychotherapy - Existential therapy is also centered on a person's present instead of their past. It helps people find meaning in life, experience their emotions, hone their decision-making skills, and promote autonomy.
- Experiential Psychotherapy - Active experiences are at the forefront of experiential therapy. This approach follows the idea that true change comes when a person is able to express and access their inner thoughts and feeling from both the past and the present.
Holistic therapy, also called integrative therapy, takes into account a person as a whole. For example, it focuses on a person's spiritual, emotional, educational, and mental environment. This approach to therapy also educates people about behavior change and the importance of self-help activities in order to promote healing.
Other Types of Therapy
Although there are five schools of thought that created the basis of therapy, there are not just five types to choose from. After the original forms were created, the field of psychology continued to research, test, and find new ways to help people take care of their mental health.
This has led to the creation of many more types of psychotherapy. Some of these newer forms are also designed to treat specific mental health conditions that the original psychotherapies struggled to address, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you've tried therapy before and found that it didn't give you the results that you hoped for, that's okay. There are several therapies out there that might be a better fit. Explore the list below to learn about additional therapies that might provide the care you need.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR was developed in 1987 to help relieve symptoms of PTSD. It is a type of individual therapy that uses bilateral eye movements, such as repeatedly looking from left to right, to help people process traumatic events.
It is distinct from other therapies because it focuses on how memory is stored in the brain, rather than just managing thoughts and physical sensations that arise when a traumatic memory is triggered. In addition to eye movements, other types of bilateral stimulation are used, such as taps and tones that occur on both sides of the body.
Unlike other treatments that are trauma-focused, it does not require a person to have extended exposure to the traumatic memory or require intense descriptions of the trauma. Typically, treatment is conducted two times a week for a period of 6-12 sessions, although many people benefit from even fewer sessions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT, also known as Beck therapy, is often used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Research shows that CBT can be at least as effective as other forms of therapy and even some forms of medication.
CBT aims to manage and change unhelpful behavior and thought patterns. In addition, patients and therapists work together to create a tool belt of coping strategies. People can use these techniques to help manage their thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviors whenever they experience struggles.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy ( DBT)
DBT is a therapy that is often used to treat complex mental health problems, such as borderline personality disorder. The practice aims to help people better regulate, manage, and cope with their emotions.
The different stages of DBT help people accept their behaviors and then build the skills they need to change them. Typically, it offers a combination of behavioral and cognitive therapies, as well as mindfulness.
If there's an approach that interests you, seek out a mental health provider that uses that strategy. Be sure that the client-therapist relationship makes you feel supported and has clear boundaries. You can ask for a phone consultation or attend the first session to get a better idea of the therapeutic process and how long it may last. If you test a strategy out and it's not for you, that's okay. You can continue to try others until you find what you're looking for.