How Can Insight Therapy Help Me?

By Julia Thomas

Updated December 10, 2018


One of the primary reasons for therapy or counseling to fail is due to a lack of insight on the part of the client. The gaining of insight has been a key component in the success of psychoanalysis since its inception. While there are actions people take and words that are uttered without deliberate thought, there is a subconscious level of thought behind them. It is often not until introduced to the concept of metacognition - thinking about how we think, that individuals are able to gain insight into their actions.

What is Insight Therapy?

Insight therapy is a type of therapy that helps you see the reasons for your negative behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. The idea is that once you see that you are the one controlling your behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, that you will be able to make the changes needed. Believe it or not, Sigmund Freud is the one who began using insight therapy back in the early 1900s at the Psychoanalyst School of Psychology. The therapist may try to get to the root of your issues by talking about your past or your childhood to determine what may be the trigger to these feelings.

This is an indirect type of therapy that lets you do most of the talking rather than having the therapist ask the questions and lead you to where he or she thinks the problems may be, like with behavior therapy. Insight therapy is more like a friendly chat rather than a therapy session and many people feel most comfortable with this type of therapy. Even though it is still a form of psychotherapy, it lets you discover how your past influences your current actions and behaviors.

Different Types of Insight Therapy and Insight Theories

Just as there are several different types of insight therapy, there are also different types of insight. Some are used more than others in the psychiatry field. The one used most often is the four stage model of insight.

Four Types of Insight Therapy

The four types of insight therapy include psychoanalysis, cognitive, humanistic, and group, family, and marital therapies.

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy: Sigmund Freud started insight therapy in the early 1900s with psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy. Some of the techniques used in this therapy include:

  • Free association
  • Dream analysis
  • Analyzing resistance
  • Analyzing transference
  • Interpretation

Cognitive: Cognitive therapy focuses on the beliefs and thinking that may be faulty and how to change them. By talking about your negative behaviors and feelings, you will be able to change your own outcome. There are two main types of cognitive therapy, which are:

  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) from Albert Ellis helps decrease self-defeating beliefs through rationally examining your beliefs and consequences.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) from Aaron Beck confronts your behaviors head-on and helps you learn ways to change them.


Humanistic: Focuses on your personal growth with emotional reconstruction. The assumption is that you are blocking your own normal growth potential and self-destructing. Rogers' client centered therapy focuses on your own instinct to become healthy and productive. Some of the techniques include:

  • Active listening
  • Genuineness
  • Unconditional positive regard
  • Empathy

Group, Family, and Marital Therapies: Include several ways to help groups of people who share the same issues.

  • Group therapy involves a group of people all interested in the same outcome working toward similar goals. For example, there are depression groups that work with patients who have depression and anxiety groups that work with patients who have anxiety disorders.
  • Family therapy involves the whole family when there is a problem within the family dynamic such as alcoholism, abuse, or divorce.
  • Marital therapy works with a married couple to help them with their issues and learn effective ways to communicate.

Different Theories

Dual Process Theory of Insight

According to the dual process theory of insight, there are two steps to solving problems. The first step is to use analytical and logical thought processes that are based on reason. The second step uses your intuition and the automatic "gut feeling" process that are based on experiences.

Three Process Theory of Insight

With this theory, your intelligence has the key role to insight but there are three processes that include selective encoding, combination, and comparison.

  • Selective encoding is done by focusing your attention on the ideas that are relevant to finding a solution and it ignores everything else.
  • Selective combination is when you combine both the relevant and that which was previously deemed relevant.
  • Selective comparison uses your past experiences with the solutions and problems that may apply to the problem and possible solution.

Four Stage Model

There are four stages of insight, which include preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Each one is just as important as others and you have to go through all four stages to gain the insight you need to improve your state of mind.

  • Preparation: First, you have to prepare to solve the problem by looking at all of the aspects. For example, if you are having trouble with your self-esteem, you may want to look at what may have happened to you in the past that caused this. Some of the common triggers of low self-esteem include childhood abuse, bullying, neglect, and violence in the home.
  • Incubation: After you determine what may be the cause, you will need plenty of time to think about the problem. This period will include possible solutions, brainstorming, and trial and error.
  • Illumination: This is the lightbulb moment. You know in the cartoon where you see the lightbulb above the character's head? It is the "Aha" moment when you realize what the solution to the problem is and wonder why you had not seen it before.
  • Verification: Even though you figured out the solution, this last step is necessary for you to know that your answer is correct. This is especially important for a person with low self-esteem because they tend to doubt themselves. The verification can come from your therapist saying you are right but it is more important for you to realize that you are right by experiencing the result for yourself.


Thinking About Our Actions

Metacognitive and insight therapies have proven beneficial to those who have compulsion disorders. When an individual has obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder, he or she may perform actions on a ritualistic basis to alleviate the anxiety. These compulsions can often create dysfunction in the individual's life.

For example, the individual who leaves the house for work or school and becomes extremely obsessed that the door has been left unlocked, or the iron left on, turns around and returns home. This behavior continues despite the number of times the door is found locked or the iron turned off. If this individual is successful in ignoring the compulsion and therefore does not act upon it, he or she is likely to obsess about it all day. When faced with this compulsion, the way this individual sees it there are two choices: 1) Return home to check and risk being late or 2) Ignore the compulsion and suffer from anxiety the remainder of the day.

A therapist who uses metacognitive and insight therapy will have that individual explore the underlying reasoning behind the compulsion. There may be something from the past, or there could be something on a subconscious level that is bothering the individual. By exploring his or her thought processes and patterns of behavior, the individual may gain key insight into the underlying cause of the fear of leaving the door unlocked or an iron on.

It may be that he or she has concerns about the safety of the family, or feels guilt over a past incident in which the safety of a child or other loved one was placed in jeopardy. Using the locked door as an example, the individual may have paranoia about break ins, or may have fears of "letting someone in" to his or her personal life.

The compulsions and associated rituals may bring temporary relief to the individual, but they are also dysfunctions and can cause problems in personal and work relationships. When a thought process or a behavioral pattern interferes with how an individual functions, it is considered a mental health disorder. According to research into the area of anxiety and compulsive disorders, unearthing the underlying fear or concern can often mitigate further dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.


Thinking About Our Relationships

Insight therapy may also benefit those who have interpersonal relationships at work or home. If relationships are stormier than not due to constant misunderstandings and bickering, there may be an underlying issue that is causing the behavior. Using metacognitive strategies can be highly effective in aiding the individual into gaining necessary insight to change thought patterns as well as associated behaviors.


No one is comfortable when their lives have become dysfunctional. However, we are often trapped in a cycle of irrational thought process and dysfunctional behavioral patterns. If you do not have a therapist and do not have the time or ability to look for one, try an online resource. These websites have thousands of licensed therapists and counselors ready to help you right now. If you do not want to go there in person, you can even try online therapy. The world's largest online mental health resource,, has over 2,000 licensed professionals that are available 24 hours a day. For more information on insight therapy and how it can help, visit BetterHelp.

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