How Do You Define Therapy?

By: Stephanie Kirby

Updated March 05, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Therapy. It can feel like a loaded word. Many people talk about needing therapy, getting therapy, or how much therapy can help. Maybe someone has recommended that you should go to therapy and you aren't sure what it means. The truth is there are many different definitions of therapy based on who you talk to. There are even more types of therapy.


Definition Of Therapy

The Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of therapy is, "therapeutic medical treatment of impairment, injury, disease, or disorder." The Cambridge Dictionary defines therapy as, "treatment to help a person get better from the effects of a disease or injury."

When most people think of therapy in regards to mental health, they are thinking about appointments that one has with a licensed mental health professional. During these therapy sessions, the professional helps them to improve areas of their mental health.

The funny thing is, if you talk to ten different therapists you will most likely come out with ten different definitions. Each therapist looks at the therapy they provide in their way. Some people might think of it as

Who Needs Therapy?

Some people are reluctant to get therapy because of the stigma that surrounds mental health. They think that people will view them as "weak" or "crazy" if they are seeing a therapist. That's why the stigma is such a dangerous thing. It stops many people who could benefit from the therapy of getting the help that they need.

While therapy is helpful for people with extreme cases of mental illness, it's also helpful for people that are struggling through a rough patch in their life. There are many different kinds of therapy to match the problems that the individual needs to address.

Types Of Therapy

To cover all the different types of therapy, we would need an entire book, not just a blog post. But here are some of the most common forms of therapy:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a popular form of therapy. Instead of diving into an individual's past to treat them, the therapy works to identify wrong thoughts and dysfunctional emotions. The individual is encouraged to replace thoughts and beliefs they have that are inaccurate with better ones. This type of therapy can often work in fewer sessions than some alternate forms of therapy. It's one of the most commonly used types of talk therapy.

CBT can be helpful for people that deal with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. It can also be helpful for those with substance abuse disorders, anger issues, and PTSD.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This type of therapy is often used for people that suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder and those that struggle with suicidal thoughts. The goal of this type of therapy is to help individuals identify wrong thought patterns and beliefs that need to be changed. Then it helps them to work on replacing the wrong thoughts and beliefs with better ones. The therapy sessions typically involve meeting once a week with a therapist and then meeting an additional time for group sessions.

If you think that DBT sounds an awful lot like CBT, you're right. DBT is its form of CBT. It adds in practices such as mindfulness and teaching acceptance.


Emotion-Focused Therapy

EFT is a therapy that's based on how we deal with our emotions. It's based on the belief that some of the mental health issues that we struggle with are due to the way we handle or ignore our emotions. During these therapy sessions, you will confront undealt with emotions from your past. Some issues that EFT can be effective in treating include eating disorders, recovering from childhood abuse, and mild to moderate depression.

Play Therapy

Play therapy is an effective form of therapy for children. It's often used in children between the ages of 2 and 11 years old. The therapist uses things like music, art, dance, and storytelling to allow the child to express themselves. This is very effective for children that are too young to communicate what they are feeling.


Group Therapy

Group therapy is when a group of patients that are dealing with similar situations meet regularly together with the therapist. This can be helpful as they can learn from each other during the sessions. Some people are leery about going to group therapy because they don't feel comfortable sharing and opening up in front of other people. However, while some people can learn from sharing and being active in the group those that are more introverted often benefit just from being present and hearing what others are saying.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-based therapy is all about learning how to be present in a situation while stepping outside of the point where you would normally react to the situation. So instead of negatively or positively reacting to a situation you simply take it in without placing any judgment on it. This type of therapy is helpful for people that are struggling with anxiety, depression, pain, and some personality disorders.

Where To Access Therapy

While there are many different types of therapy, there are also many different people that you can see for therapy. Most people think of psychologists. This is the highest level of mental health professionals that you can meet with for therapy. They have the highest level of education, and that often comes with a high cost for their services. They are similar to a general practitioner in the medical field and can make recommendations for you if you need to meet with a specialist or need to see a psychiatrist for a prescription to help you gain control of your mental health.

There are also licensed social workers that specialize in certain areas of mental health. They are typically the level right after psychologists. They can provide you with the therapy that you need as well. You can also meet with therapists that have received a Master's Degree in counseling.


Besides mental health professionals, you can also find access to counseling at certain non-profits and with some religious organizations. It's important to note that many of the counselors working in these locations are not licensed, therapists. They may have experience meeting with people, but the practices they use will not be what you will find from the types of therapy described above.

Local Therapists

If you are looking to attend therapy sessions in-person than you are going to want to find a local therapist in your area. It's easy to locate a mental health professional by doing a quick search online. You can even see the reviews of others that have used their services. If you don't want to search online, you can ask your physician or family and friends for a recommendation.

Online Therapy

Thanks to modern-day technology there are plenty of options for you to get the help you need without having to step foot into a therapist's office. You can find companies like BetterHelp that allow you to gain access to a therapist through text messages, emails, phone calls, or video sessions.

Choose What's Comfortable For You

The whole purpose of therapy is for you to get the help that you need. For that to happen, you need to be comfortable with both the therapist that you are talking to and the form of therapy they are using. Remember that you're in control of your sessions. While the therapist might lead the session, they are doing it for you. That means you should feel free to have open discussions with the therapist about expectations and goals for your therapy sessions.

Do your research before deciding what therapist you want to work with. And, don't be afraid to discuss the definition of therapy with them. Talk to them about what you think it means and how you would define it. And, ask them to provide you with their definition of therapy. When you know how they define therapy, it will help you to know if they will be a good fit for you.

It can also help if you ask the therapist about what experience they have had in dealing with the issues that you want to talk to them about. Then ask them what their plan would be for your therapy sessions. What type of therapy do they think will be most effective? How many sessions do they anticipate that you will need to have? You want to set yourself up for success in your therapy sessions.

And, never forget that you are in control. If you find that you aren't benefiting from the therapy sessions, then talk to the therapist about it. And, if you find that they aren't listening to you, then it might be time to find a new therapist. If you ever get the feeling that therapy doesn't work, remember that there are many different types of therapy and different therapists. If what you're currently doing isn't working, then make some changes, but don't give up on therapy.

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