Psychotherapy Techniques and Impact

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated July 11, 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.

There are over 400 therapy modalities and hundreds of techniques that can be practiced in the field of mental health.

Of these therapeutic modalities and techniques, professionals often agree that there are five broad categories and approaches: psychoanalysis and psychodynamic, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy, and integrative therapy.

Each of these approaches contains a multitude of options for those weighing the various types of psychotherapy. Therapists may specialize in mental health treatment for conditions such as eating disorders like anorexia, mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder, anxiety and similar disorders like PTSD, or substance misuse. Learning about each can help you decide which strategy may benefit you most in your treatment.

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Not sure which psychotherapy technique is right for you?

The five psychotherapy approaches

Many therapists have training in broad categories of psychotherapy. Below are the five general psychotherapy approaches and examples of therapy modalities within them. 

The integrative approach

Integrative therapy, sometimes called the holistic approach, involves a blend of various modalities and techniques personalized to the client's symptoms, goals, and needs. Not all therapy modalities are used in integrative therapy. Instead, the therapist may combine two or use techniques from various. For example, a therapist might use cognitive restructuring techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and radical acceptance from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Some integrative therapists may specialize in more than one technique and switch between those specific psychotherapy techniques during a therapy session but not branch out further. 

The humanistic approach
The humanistic approach is a person-centered therapy where a therapist focuses on the client and their needs. Humanistic perspective psychology focuses on self-actualization and personal needs. Client-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy are three of the most common types of humanistic therapeutic modalities.

Client-centered therapy (also known as Rogerian therapy) aims to allow the client to lead the sessions and choose what thoughts and feelings they have in common. They can set their own expectations for treatment and work with the therapist to find techniques that make them feel comfortable. As another form of humanistic therapy, Gestalt therapy helps clients learn to focus on the present moment. Gestalt therapy techniques often involve mindfulness and self-actualization. Finally, existential therapy (based on existential theory) involves searching for meaning and discussing free will. Humanistic therapies may improve well-being, self-awareness and self-esteem.
The cognitive approach
The cognitive approach focuses on thoughts and beliefs that clients hold, putting more emphasis on these internal factors than on external behaviors. Where other types of therapy might focus on actions, cognitive therapy posits that thoughts often lead to emotions and reactions, and dysfunctional thinking can lead to negative thoughts and generally viewing life negatively. One of the most popular forms of cognitive therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy which combines aspects of evidence-based cognitive and behavioral approaches and CBT sessions can be used in substance abuse treatment, depression treatment, or other forms of treatment to change behaviors. 
The behavioral approach
In the behavior-oriented approach to therapy, clients often focus on learning how their behaviors impact their relationships, self-beliefs, and potential goals. Desensitization therapy can be considered a type of behavior therapy, as it involves direct exposure to fears to change behavioral patterns. Behavioral theories often posit that all behaviors can be informative and changed and that both positive behaviors and problematic behaviors are primarily formed through experience, not genetics. 

A few popular forms of behavioral therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and exposure and response prevention therapy. 

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic approaches

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies look at the unconscious mind, including thoughts and memories. These therapists delve into a client's past and suppressed, difficult emotions to help them understand their behaviors, reactions, and patterns. Psychodynamic therapy and psychoanalysis are both modalities in their own right, as well. Psychodynamic psychotherapies involve understanding the self through self-reflection. Psychoanalysis involves practices like free association, where a client is prompted with a word or idea to discuss any topic that comes to mind, assigning unconscious meanings to words and revealing inner thought processes. Psychodynamic therapy, developed by Sigmund Freud, may also be considered a form of cognitive therapy, primarily focusing on subconscious thoughts and patterns.

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Therapy format options 
Outside of a therapist's approach to treatment, there are several formats in which clients find a therapist and participate in many of the modalities, including the following. 

Group therapy 

In group therapy, you can meet with other clients and a therapist for group discussions and activities. Often, group clients attend therapy for similar motives. In a group therapy setting, you may talk to others who have progressed in similar symptoms who can offer inspiration and advice. Telling your story may also motivate other clients to make changes and impart theirs. In addition, many individuals find that they make close connections with the group members they meet, allowing group therapy to be a social activity. Studies show that social connection can improve mental and physical health. Popular modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy can be attended in group format in some cases. 

Couples therapy

In couples therapy, partners attend therapy together to learn skills or partake in one of the many therapy modalities available. Some modalities are often specific to couples, such as the Gottman method or emotionally focused therapy (EFT). Both married and non-married couples can partake in this form of counseling. 

Individual therapy 

Individual therapy is what is often known as "traditional therapy." It involves one client and a therapist, often in a talk therapy format. The client may build a short or long-term therapeutic relationship with the provider. Individual therapy can also be done online or in person, along with other methods. Anyone of any age, background, gender, or mental health status can see a therapist. You do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to partake in therapy. However, people living with a mental health condition like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, or other mental health conditions may benefit from talking to a therapist, as therapy is often considered the first line of treatment for many mental illnesses. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Family therapy

Family therapy is designed to improve interpersonal relationships within a family and may help to work through family conflicts, challenging experiences, and intense emotions. A family therapist may provide strategies for developing skills in communication and help family member to see things from different perspectives. This support from the therapist may result in a positive change in how a family interacts. 
Counseling options 

In modern psychology, there are various ways to receive treatment that may benefit you. Online psychotherapy and online mental health services have become popular options due to their flexibility and affordability for clients. Online therapy allows clients to choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with licensed therapists, and receive treatment from the comfort of home. 

When you meet a provider face-to-face, you may have to plan for traffic and time off work. With an online platform, you can meet from anywhere with an internet connection at a potentially lower cost, and your therapist can also cut costs by not having parking fees or an office rental agreement. In addition, studies show that 71% of online therapy clients find it more effective than in-person therapy. 

With a platform like BetterHelp, you can gain over 30,000 licensed therapists trained to offer various psychotherapy modalities, including some methods from the above five categories. Although BetterHelp doesn't provide couples therapy, platforms like Regain offer similar benefits to those seeking couples sessions.  

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Not sure which psychotherapy technique is right for you?


There are various benefits unique to each psychotherapy. Psychotherapies like humanistic therapy may benefit you if you want to lead your discussions with your therapist and choose which thoughts to engage with, while psychodynamic therapy may be more for you if you want to address the source of deeply rooted patterns of thought and behavior. When seeking a psychotherapy option, consider what you value, your goals for treatment and whether you prefer to focus on emotions, behaviors, or thoughts. Organizations like the American Psychological Association can provide resources and guidance as you seek the right modality for you. When you're ready to start, consider contacting a professional to discuss your options in more detail.

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