The Different Types Of Counseling Styles

Updated November 15, 2018

Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Every person is unique and responds to each type of counseling differently, so it is important to consider the right counseling style that will fit the needs of the patient. Throughout the years, many different types of counseling have emerged from research and practice. Some methods of counseling are meant to target specific issues, while others focus on individual growth and change regardless of presenting problem.

The following are common styles of counseling:

Cognitive Therapy


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Cognitive therapy focuses specifically on a person's train of thought and identifies problematic patterns of negative thinking. These thinking patterns stimulate negative thoughts and interpretations of the patient's self and the world. Once these patterns have been identified, the therapist uses cognitive restructuring, to change the way the patient interprets thoughts and situations. This will lessen negative emotions and sense of self.

Behavioral Therapy


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

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


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Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines both cognitive therapy 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, the patient develops an understanding of how his thoughts, emotions, and behavior all influence each other. The patient can pinpoint the destructive thoughts that create negative emotions, which fuel problematic behavior. The patient then learns how to restructure the way he thinks to develop healthier thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on self-awareness of the patient's 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 the negative thoughts, emotions, and behavior, rather than conscious, automatic thoughts that occur in initial reaction to situations.


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Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is a client-centered approach that emphasizes unconditional acceptance from the therapist and the free expression of the patient. With humanistic therapy, the patient is encouraged to openly express what is affecting him as he works with the therapist to find meaning, self-actualization, and understanding of his emotions. Two common humanistic therapeutic techniques are client-centered therapy and Gestalt therapy. Many counselors utilize the client-centered approach's emphasis on unconditional positive regard or acceptance regardless of other theories they may apply with patients.


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Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy is a form of therapy that helps an individual understand the dynamics of communication and interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal therapy targets communication and interpersonal behavior to help the patient understand how he contributes to the struggles and emotional issues he faces. The premise of interpersonal therapy is if you can improve interpersonal behavior and communication, you will receive more support and acceptance from others and from yourself, which will help improve overall mood and reduce emotional issues.


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Schema-Focused Therapy

In psychology, a schema is a cognitive system or framework you use to organize categories in your mind. Schema-focused therapy seeks to create a new, healthier framework not only for the items you've already learned but also for new items you learn in the future. This method of restructuring your thinking goes far beyond recent events. Instead, it alters your overall view of your world. It's often used for people who have longstanding mental health issues, such as borderline personality disorder.


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Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Mindfulness has become an important concept in human psychology. As you become more attuned to what is happening in the here and now, you can stay better grounded and react more appropriately to any situation. Dialectical Behavior is a relatively new and quite popular form of therapy. It combines this 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, and decrease any tendency you might have towards self-destructive behaviors like self-harm.


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Eclectic Therapy

Eclectic therapy isn't a specific type of therapy. The phrase describes the way many counselors work. They may begin therapy in one style and shift to another at a certain point. Each session may contain elements of a variety of therapy styles. The therapist picks and chooses from the full gamut of therapy methods, as you need them in certain situations. The therapist might address habits or behaviors you're exhibiting. Using different therapies together to create the counselor's own eclectic mix takes enormous skill, usually gained by years of experience. You might also hear this type of therapy referred to as holistic therapy or integrative therapy.

Substance Abuse Therapy

People who are addicted to prescription drugs, street drugs or alcohol require a specific kind of approach to help them quit using and then stay clean and sober. While 12-step programs are extremely helpful and are considered essential to the person's sobriety, individual or group substance abuse therapy can provide patients with expert advice, resources, and opinions on how to deal with substance abuse. The substance abuse counselor can help you explore your triggers, remove yourself from co-dependent relationships, and build a new substance-free life. Substance abuse counselors may employ any number of methods or interventions in treatment. For example, CBT is common in substance abuse counseling.

Group Therapy

In group therapy, members of a group interact with each other under the guidance of a therapist. The group may be made up of people who are grieving, have anxiety or panic attacks, deal with depression, have bipolar disorder or a personality disorder, or members of a family. The counselor typically goes around to each member of the group, asking them to introduce themselves or talk about their week. This initial exchange usually leads to deeper issues that can then be explored. Other members of the group are also allowed to ask the person questions or challenge them. However, members of the group are expected to respect each other. Groups may be educational, supportive, or utilize CBT, DBT, or any other number of methods.

Family Therapy

When members of a family go for therapy together, the approach used is called family therapy. Family therapy is a specific type of group therapy. Because the counselor may not see all the family members at each session, they can use approaches that work in a group setting as well as individual counseling techniques at different times as needed.

The goal is to create a harmonious family environment so all can be accepted, nurtured, and encouraged to find fulfillment. The goal is that all family members can have their needs met. Different therapists use different methods with families. It's important to ensure that the counselor you work with is tolerant of your family's beliefs and traditions. At the same time, being open to change is always necessary at some points in any kind of therapy.

There are different methods and approaches to family therapy. A therapist may use family systems theory, CBT, or other methods.

Finding a Counselor Experienced in the Right Style for You


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One of the first things to find out when you're choosing a counselor is what type of counseling style they use. Finding this information can sometimes take a great deal of effort, especially if you're considering a counselor in your local area whose website isn't very informative. However, if you prefer online counseling, you can go to a platform like BetterHelp. Once there, you can quickly click on the counselors' profiles to see what kind of therapy and types of problems they specialize in. From this, you can get an idea of whether that therapist's style will be right for you and your mental health issues.

The Value of Patience

Your mental health probably won't improve much at all after your first session with your new counselor, no matter what style they use. Each therapy approach may have different time requirements, you're your length of treatment will depend on the type of issues you are having. Therapy can last for a couple of months or years, or you may find yourself attending when you feel you need it. If you get impatient and change counselors right away, you might never know benefits from therapy.


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When to Switch Counseling Styles

Patience makes it possible for you to get used to a new therapist and stay long enough to see if their style is best for you. Does this mean you have to stay with one counselor until you feel you no longer need therapy? Of course not! You're free to switch whenever you like. Assess the counseling you've received so far to determine for yourself whether it has been as helpful as you need it to be. Then, decide whether to stay or move on. The counselor will also be paying attention to know whether the style they prefer is working for you. If your counselor sees that they aren't a good fit for you, they'll likely refer you to another counselor who is.

Getting Started

Getting started in online counseling is as easy as pulling up a website and filling out a simple form. From there, you'll get a list of therapists to consider. BetterHelp will use the information you give to provide recommendations for counselors best suited for working with you. If you don't like anyone on the list, you can try again. It's important to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Much of the research that shows therapy is successful also states that the relationship you establish with your counselor is the most important factor in positive outcome. When choosing a counselor, find one you like and find one who uses a method that appeals to you. Don't be afraid to ask your counselor questions about their training and methods!


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