The Different Types Of Counseling Styles

Updated December 7, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Every person is unique and responds to therapy differently, so it is vital to consider the right mental health counseling style that will fit your needs. Over the years, many different types of counseling have emerged from research and practice. Some are meant to target specific issues, while others focus on individual growth and change.

Counseling Types Available To You

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy focuses specifically on a person's thoughts and identifies problematic patterns of negative thinking that lead to unhealthy interpretations of the patient's self and the world. Once these patterns are identified, the therapist uses cognitive restructuring to change how the patient interprets these thoughts and situations, lessen negative emotions, and improve their sense of self.

Eager To Start With A Specific Counseling Style?

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy adopts the philosophy that if patients change their problematic behavior, they will see positive changes in thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others. Behavioral counselors work on different theories of behavior, reinforcement, and motivation to pinpoint and improve problematic behavior patterns. It's common for behavioral therapy to be incorporated into sessions when working with interpersonal, relationship, and emotional issues.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines cognitive and behavioral therapy and focuses on how a person's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected. By identifying the pattern between these three key components, certified counselors work with the patient to help them develop an understanding of how their thoughts, emotions, and behavior all influence each other. The patient can pinpoint the destructive thoughts that create the negative emotions which fuel problematic behavior, and learn how to restructure how they think. Program outcomes can support many life factors, from seeking new job opportunities to losing weight to coping with anxiety and depression.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on self-awareness of unconscious actions and behaviors. Psychodynamic therapy is like CBT in that it works to understand how beliefs, thoughts, behavior, and emotions are interconnected. However, it focuses on the unconscious beliefs and emotions that tend to trigger negative thoughts and behaviors rather than conscious or automatic thoughts that occur in the initial reaction to situations. Many common conditions, like anxiety and depression, can benefit from this therapy.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is a client-centered therapy field that emphasizes unconditional acceptance from the therapist and the free expression of the patient. With humanistic therapy, patients are encouraged to openly express what is affecting them as they work with the therapist to achieve meaning, self-actualization, and understanding of their emotions. An example of humanistic therapy is Gestalt therapy. Most counselors utilize this approach's emphasis on unconditional positive regard or acceptance regardless of other theories they may use.

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy targets communication and interpersonal behavior to help the patient understand how they contribute to their struggles and emotional issues. The premise of interpersonal therapy is that if you can improve interpersonal behavior and communication, you will receive more support and acceptance from others and yourself, which will help improve your overall mood and reduce emotional issues. Patients use this to work on relationships at home and in other areas, like job opportunities and career options.

Schema-Focused Therapy

In psychology, a schema is a cognitive system or framework you use to organize categories in your mind. Schema therapy seeks to create a healthier framework for what the patients have already learned and for what they will learn in the future. This method of restructuring thinking goes far beyond recent events. Instead, it alters your overall view of the world. It's often used for people with longstanding mental health issues, such as borderline personality disorder.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Mindfulness has become an important concept in human psychology. As clients become more attuned to what is happening in the here and now, clients can stay better grounded and react more appropriately to any situation. Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, combines the concept of mindfulness with many of the elements of cognitive behavior therapy. In DBT, you learn how to develop stronger relationships, manage out-of-control emotions, decrease your tendency towards self-destructive behaviors like self-harm, and get guidance in different mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

Eclectic Therapy

Eclectic therapy isn't a specific type of counseling. The phrase describes how many common counselors work. They may begin therapy in one style and shift to another depending on the client’s needs. Each session may contain elements of a variety of therapy styles to address the habits or behaviors the patient is exhibiting. Using different therapies to create the counselor's eclectic mix takes enormous skill, usually gained by years of experience. You might also hear this type of counseling referred to as the holistic approach or integrative therapy, and students of eclectic therapy can do very well.

Substance Use Therapy

People who are addicted to prescription drugs, street drugs, or alcohol require a specific approach to help them quit using and then stay clean and sober. Individual or group substance use therapy with rehabilitation counselors can provide patients with expert advice, resources, and opinions on how to deal with substance use. A rehabilitation counselor can help you explore your triggers, remove yourself from codependent relationships, and build a new substance-free life. Substance use counselors may employ a number of methods or interventions in treatment. For example, CBT is common in substance use counseling. Additionally, substance use disorder is often diagnosed with other common mental illnesses like anxiety or depression. Students of substance use therapy often have to work on these other mental illnesses as well.

Group Therapy

In group therapy, a group interacts with each other under the guidance of a therapist. Groups may be composed of people who are grieving, have anxiety or panic attacks, or are dealing with depression. The initial exchange usually leads to deeper issues that the group can explore. The group is also allowed to ask the person questions or challenge them, but they must respect each other. Groups may be educational and supportive or utilize CBT, DBT, or other methods.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a specific type of counseling and group therapy. Because the professional counselor may not see all the families at each session, they can use approaches that work in a group setting and individual counseling techniques as needed.

Family therapists aim to create a harmonious family environment so all can be accepted, nurtured, and encouraged to find fulfillment. The goal is that all families can have their needs met. Different family therapists use different methods with families, like clinical intervention services. It's crucial to ensure that your counselor is tolerant of your family's beliefs and traditions. At the same time, being open to change is necessary for any kind of therapy.

Married couples can attend marriage and family counseling. Marriage and family counseling can focus on the relationship between the married couple and the family. Marriage and family counseling can be helpful for the emotional well-being of the family if marriage difficulties are at the root of the problem for the family as a whole to live more fulfilling lives.

The Value Of Patience

Your mental health probably won't improve significantly after your first session with your new counselor, no matter what style they use. Each therapy approach may have different time requirements, and the length of your treatment will depend on your issues. Therapy can last for months or years. If you get impatient and change counselors or different types of therapy too soon, you might not get the full benefits.

When To Switch Counseling Styles

Different counseling specialties and styles focus on different areas. You're free to switch whenever you like if you do not feel any benefits to the therapy you’re receiving. Assess the counseling you've received so far to determine whether it has been as helpful as you need it to be. Then, decide whether to stay or move on. The counselor will also pay attention to whether the preferred style works for them. If your counselor sees that they aren't a good fit for you, they'll likely refer you to someone who is.

Getting Started With Online Therapy

Eager To Start With A Specific Counseling Style?

Getting started in online mental health counseling is as easy as pulling up a website and filling out a simple form. From there, you get a list of counselors with license requirements and specialties to consider, from individual to marriage and family therapists.

In addition to being convenient, there are many other benefits of online therapy. If you want to switch counseling styles, you can use the platform’s online database to find a counselor that practices that style instead of starting from scratch, researching and making phone calls to find someone suitable. Online therapy is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and you can do it from the discreetness of your own home.

Multiple studies show that online therapy is effective, too. Not only can it treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, and panic disorders, but people are just as satisfied with online therapy as they are with in-person therapy, and, in many cases, it’s more affordable.


It's essential to find a mental health counselor that you feel comfortable with. Counseling specialties come in many different forms, and it is vital to find the type of counseling that works for you. When choosing a counselor, find one you like who uses a method that appeals to you.

Commonly Asked Questions

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