The Different Types Of Counseling Styles

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
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. From behavioral approaches to humanistic counseling with a more holistic approach to mental illness, there are many different types of counselors and therapists.

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 client's self and the world. Once these patterns are identified, the therapist uses cognitive restructuring to change how the client interprets these thoughts and situations, lessen negative emotions, and improve their sense of self. Cognitive therapy has been shown to be especially effective for people who have experienced trauma and may be living with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example. Derived from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive therapy offers a way to reexamine memories and the meaning assigned to them with the aim of lessening their impact in the present.

Eager to start with a specific counseling style?

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy adopts the philosophy that if clients change their problematic behavior, they will see positive changes in thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others because we all manage things differently. 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. Behavioral therapy may address a range of concerns that may impact one's self-esteem and way of interacting with the world.

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 client to help them develop an understanding of how their thoughts, emotions, and behavior all influence each other. The client can pinpoint the destructive thoughts that create the negative emotions that 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. It has also been shown to be effective in treating eating disorders, as well as anxiety disorders.

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 of psychodynamic counseling. In addition, psychodynamic therapy is also used in addressing substance use.

Also known as psychoanalytic psychotherapy, PT may incorporate techniques used in traditional psychoanalysis. First conceived by Sigmund Freud as a psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious, the types of counselors that may employ this approach may include social workers or other mental health professionals.

Humanistic therapy

Humanistic therapy is a client-centered therapy field that emphasizes unconditional acceptance from the therapist and the free expression of the client. Unlike some other kinds of therapy, client-centered counseling is non-directive as it focuses on a person's ability to resolve their own issues by talking through them. With humanistic therapy, clients 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 client 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. Clients 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 clients have already learned and for what they will learn in the future. Schema therapy is a method of restructuring thinking that 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.

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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 client 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.

Reality therapy

Reality therapy places its focus on what one can control in their present lives and emphasizes personal responsibility in setting goals, changing one's behavior, and fulfilling needs. It is based on William Glasser's theory that most people have choices on how they behave, so that changing unhealthy behavior involves making different choices. A therapist using this approach may guide clients by examining their behavior and its consequences so that alternatives may be found. One of the main goals of reality therapy is to build (or rebuild) connections with other people while gaining self-reliance.

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 clients with expert advice, resources, and opinions on how to overcome 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. The network of mental health counselors working with this approach may also include support groups aimed at sustaining recovery among peers.

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 experiencing depression. The initial exchange in grief counseling 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 such as grief counseling.

Family therapy

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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. School counselors may also combine efforts with a family therapist in addressing concerns that may lie beyond the school environment.

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 behavioral health 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 and couples 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. Counseling careers usually require one to graduate from a master's program in counseling to ensure professionals are qualified to treat various conditions. However, someone who chooses a counseling career will also tend to specialize, be it in family or grief counseling, for example. If you feel you are needing a shift in counseling style, 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, you may 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 or the issues you're experiencing, they'll likely refer you to someone who is.

Getting started with online therapy

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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 exclusive practices.

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 who practices that style instead of starting from scratch, researching, and making phone calls to find someone suitable. Online therapy is available 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. From grief counselors to cognitive behavioral therapy, there is a specialty to suit the preferred approach to address your concerns.

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