The Different Types Of Counseling Styles

By Sarah Fader |Updated August 31, 2022

Every person is unique and responds to each of the various types of counseling differently, so it is important to consider the right mental health 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 types of counseling are meant to target specific issues, while others focus on individual growth and change regardless of presenting problem.

Counseling Types Available To You

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy focuses specifically on a person's train of thought and identifies problematic patterns of negative thinking that contribute to mental illness. 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 to combat mental illness. 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 in dealing with mental illness. Behavioral counselors work on 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)

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 certified counselors work for the patient to develop an understanding of how their 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. Program outcomes can provide support throughout many factors in life from seeking new job opportunities, weight loss, anxiety and depression, better communication, and everything in between.

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 the initial reaction to situations. Many common mental illnesses, 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 in public and private practices. With humanistic therapy, the patient is encouraged to openly express what is affecting him as he works with the therapist to find the program outcomes of meaning, self-actualization, and understanding of his emotions. Two common humanistic therapeutic techniques are client-centered therapy, aka person-centered therapy, and Gestalt therapy. Most common types of counselors utilize the client-centered approach's emphasis on unconditional positive regard or acceptance regardless of other theories they may apply to patients.

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. Patients and clients use this work on relationships at home, as well as 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 new, healthier framework not only for the items the patients and clients 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.

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 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, decrease any tendency you might have towards self-destructive behaviors like self-harm, and earn guidance in different types of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

Eclectic Therapy

Eclectic therapy isn't a specific type of counseling. The phrase describes the way many common types of counselors work, aka their theoretical orientation. 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 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 to therapy 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 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 use therapy with rehabilitation counselors can provide patients with expert advice, resources, and opinions on how to deal with substance use. The rehabilitation counselor can help you explore your triggers, remove yourself from co-dependent relationships, and build a new substance-free life. Substance use counselors may employ any 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, members of a group interact with each other under the guidance of a therapist. The students of group therapy 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 are members of a family. The professional counselors typically go 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 or family counseling. Family therapy is a specific type of counseling and group therapy. Because the professional counselor may not see all the family members as students of family therapy 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 of the family therapists 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 family therapists use different methods with families, like clinical intervention services. 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. Grief counseling as a family can also be powerful when a beloved family member passes away.

Married couples can attend marriage and family counseling. Marriage and family counseling can focus on the relationship between the married couple as well as 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.

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

Finding a Counselor Experienced in the Right Style for You

One of the first things to find out when you're choosing a counselor is what type or types of counseling style they use. Maybe you need grief counseling with professional grief counselors, or maybe you are looking for relationship advice. Maybe you need to see their qualifications or degree, like what bachelor’s degree and master’s program they attended for their master’s degree. Finding this information, such as what master’s program they attended or if there are social workers, 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 different 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. Another great option is to reach out to work or school counselors. Most school counselors, like guidance counselors, for example, offer quality school counseling for students at a reduced rate for many health disorders.

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 or different types of counselors right away, you might never know the benefits of therapy.

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. Different counseling specialties and counseling careers focus on different areas. 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 knowing whether the style they prefer is working for them. 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

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Getting started in online mental health counseling is as easy as pulling up a website and filling out a simple form. From there, you'll get a list of counselors with license requirements, different types of counselors, and other mental health professionals to consider, from individual to marriage and family therapists. BetterHelp will use the information you give to provide recommendations for counselors and different types of 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 mental health counselor — from substance use counseling to marriage and family therapists — that you feel comfortable with. As described above, counseling specialties and counseling careers come in many different forms, and it is important to find the type of counseling specialties and counseling careers that work for you. 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 a 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 mental health counselor questions about their training and methods!

Commonly Asked Questions

What are the 3 types of counseling?
What are the most common types of counseling?
What are the 5 types of therapy?
What is the type of counseling?
What are the principles of counseling?
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What are the 5 major goals of counseling?
What are 2 types of counseling?
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