How Can Insight Therapy Help?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated August 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, private support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Insight has been a critical component in the success of psychoanalysis since its inception. While there are actions people take and words uttered without deliberate thought, psychologists often believe there is a subconscious idea behind them. It is often not until introduced to the concept of metacognition that we may begin thinking about how individuals can gain insight into their actions. Insight therapy can help individuals learn more about the definition of this concept, as well as their own behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.

Learn About The Various Types Of Insight Therapy.

What Is Insight Therapy?

Insight therapy is a type of treatment that aims to offer insight into your behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. An insight therapist may believe that once you know you have control over many of these aspects, you might be able to make the necessary changes. Sigmund Freud began using insight therapy in the early 1900s at the Psychoanalyst School of Psychology. While some of his research has been debunked, and his influence has been on the decline, some aspects of his work may still have value. Insight therapy specifically can be a helpful form of treatment for a number of mental health conditions. So what exactly does this therapy consist of?

Insight therapy is an indirect therapy that lets you do most of the talking rather than having the therapist ask the questions and lead you to where they believe the problems might be, like with behavior therapy. Insight therapy may seem more like a friendly conversation rather than a therapy session, and many people might feel more comfortable with this type of therapy. The insight could also help you discover how your past influences your current actions and behaviors.

Insight Therapy Types

There are different types of insight therapy; some are used more than others in psychiatry and psychology. The four types of insight therapy are psychoanalysis therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy, 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 are as follows:

  • Free association
  • Dream analysis
  • Analysis of resistance
  • Analysis of transference
  • Interpretation

Cognitive Therapy 

Cognitive therapy focuses on beliefs and thought patterns that may cause emotional or behavioral harm and how to change them. By talking about dealing with your unwanted behaviors and thoughts, you may be able to change your outcomes. There are two main cognitive therapy types: rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) by Albert Ellis and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) by Aaron Beck. 

REBT may decrease self-defeating beliefs by rationally examining your beliefs and consequences. CBT often assesses thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Assessing cognitive distortions may help you change unwanted behaviors. Both types of therapy can help with a number of mental health conditions and illnesses, including eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders. Cognitive behavior therapy, in particular, has been proven to be useful as a treatment for anxiety disorders like panic disorder (which is commonly believed to be the source of panic attacks.)

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy might focus on your personal growth with emotional reconstruction. In this type of counseling, theorists may believe that a client can block their natural growth potential and, as a consequence, develop self esteem issues or act in self-destructive ways. Rogers' client-centered therapy focuses on personal strengths and an inner instinct to become healthy and productive. The techniques of this type of therapy can include the following:

  • Active listening
  • Genuineness
  • Unconditional positive regard
  • Empathy

Group, Family, And Marital Therapies. 

Group therapy involves a group of people working toward similar goals. For example, there are depression groups that work with people who experience depression and anxiety groups that work with patients with anxiety disorders.

Family therapy involves the whole family or certain families when there is a problem or struggle within the family dynamic, such as divorce, conflict, or substance use (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “substance abuse.”) Marital therapy works with married couples to help them discuss their disputes and teach them practical communication methods.

If you are having difficulties with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Insight Therapy Theories

Below are a few different theories related to insight therapy and insight theory. 

Dual Process Theory Of Insight

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

Three Process Theory Of Insight

With the three-process theory of insight, your intelligence may have a crucial role in gaining insight, and there are three main processes, including selective encoding, combination, and comparison. Selective encoding is achieved by focusing on the ideas relevant to finding a solution while ignoring information that does not seem like a good fit. 

Selective comparison establishes a connection between experience and learned knowledge; selective combination can involve understanding various components of a problem and combining them to find a solution.

Four-Stage Model

According to the four-stage model, there are four stages of insight

  • Preparation 
  • Incubation 
  • Illumination
  • Verification

Each of the above models is considered as essential as the others, and you may have to go through all four stages to gain the insight to improve your state of mind.


First, you may prepare to solve a problem by looking at its 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. Common triggers of low self-esteem can include childhood abuse, bullying, neglect, and violence at home.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat


After you or a mental health professional determine the cause of an issue, you may spend time considering the problem. This period may include brainstorming possible solutions and engaging in trial and error.


Illumination is known as the "lightbulb" moment when you realize what a solution to a problem could be and wonder why you haven't seen it before.


Even though you figured out the solution, the last step of verification is often considered necessary to help encourage you and confirm that your answer is correct. This step can be critical for a person with low self-esteem that doubts themselves. The verification can come from validation from those in your life, but it may also be beneficial for you to realize that you are right by experiencing the results for yourself.

Gaining Insights About Your Actions 

Metacognitive and insight therapies have proven beneficial to those who have compulsion disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When an individual experiences anxiety or OCD, they may perform actions on a ritualistic basis to alleviate stress or mental pain. These compulsions can often create significant challenges and relationship issues in a person's life.

For example, an individual who leaves the house for work or school and fears that the door has been left unlocked might turn back and return home to check. This behavior may continue despite the number of times the door is found locked. If this individual ignores the compulsion and does not act upon it, they may obsess about it all day. When faced with this compulsion, there are often two choices: 

  1. Return home to double-check and risk being late 
  2. Ignore the compulsion and experience anxiety for the remainder of the day

A therapist who uses metacognitive and insight therapy may have the individual explore the underlying reasoning behind the compulsion. There may be events or experiences from their past, or there could be a thought on a subconscious level that is bothering them. By exploring their thought process and pattern of behavior, the individual may gain valuable insight into the underlying cause of the fear of leaving the door unlocked.

It may be that the individual has concerns about the safety of their family or feels guilt over past experiences in which the safety of children or loved ones was jeopardized. In the locked door example, the individual may have paranoia during a relationship about break-ins or fear of "letting someone into” their personal life.

The compulsions and associated rituals may temporarily relieve the individual, but they can cause problems in personal and work relationships. When a thought process or a behavioral pattern interferes with how an individual functions, it may be a symptom of a mental health condition. Unearthing the underlying fear or concern can often mitigate further harmful thoughts and behaviors.

Insight therapy may also benefit those struggling with interpersonal relationships at work or home. If a person is struggling to form a healthy or trusting relationship due to constant misunderstandings and bickering, there may be an underlying cause. Metacognitive strategies can be effective in providing someone with the necessary insight to change their thought patterns as well as their associated behaviors.

Seeking Insight Therapy

No matter what you're experiencing, an in-person practice, or online therapist specializing in any of the above types of insight therapy may benefit you. You might consider seeking therapy online if you do not have the time to travel to a therapist's office. A study has shown that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional therapy. 96% of people using online therapy reported feeling a personal connection with their online therapists as opposed to 91% who saw face-to-face therapists. They were also more invested in completing homework that the therapists assigned them and occasionally reviewed correspondence between them and their therapists, leading them to move forward with their lives.

Depending on the type of insight therapy you seek, you might sign up for an online platform like BetterHelp, where a licensed therapist can work with you on concerns that keep you from fully experiencing life. You can meet with your online therapist from the comfort of your home (or wherever you have an internet connection) at a convenient time. You can also choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Learn About The Various Types Of Insight Therapy.

Counselor Reviews

“Philip has assisted me in looking at and processing some issues in key areas of my life. This has resulted in greater clarity, understanding, and healing for me….Philip can listen and reflect back what I’m saying without judgment, yet with very helpful insights. He’s very supportive and has helped me become more aware of my strengths. Counseling with Philip is very beneficial. I look forward to my sessions, knowing they will be truly helpful.”

“Felicia has been profoundly communicative, doing an excellent job of clarifying some of my more discordant thoughts while introducing new lines of questioning to help me tease out some thoughts that have proven beneficial for giving form to some of my more shapeless issues.”


You're not alone if you have questions about insight therapy or therapy in general. Reaching out or making an appointment with a counselor can be one way of gaining insight into your symptoms, thought processes, and concerns. Regardless of which of the four types of insight therapy you choose, listening to a therapist and thinking clearly may allow you to make meaningful changes and see growth well into adulthood. Take the first step by contacting a provider for further guidance. 

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