Exploring Different Types Of Psychotherapy

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Psychotherapy, often called talk therapy, is an approach that utilizes dialogue to assist people in managing a broad range of mental health conditions and emotional and behavior challenges, as we all deal with things differently

What is a psychotherapist? There are dozens of psychotherapeutic approaches used by mental health professionals, which can be grouped into five broad categories: psychodynamic therapy, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy, and holistic therapy. Each category represents one of the different types of psychotherapy addressing various psychological issues and provides tailored interventions for patients, helping them overcome challenges and improve their mental well-being. 

Depending on the symptoms the client is seeking to treat, some therapies and approaches may be more effective than others. Learning about the different types of psychological therapy options available to you or someone you love for treatment may benefit you in making an informed decision for care.

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Sometimes it helps to talk things out with a neutral party

Popular psychotherapy types and methods

While there are less mainstream types of psychotherapy, like equine-assisted therapy, transference-focused counseling, and dance therapy, below are several of the most utilized forms of psychotherapy applicable to a broader range of mental health conditions. Some psychologists may combine multiple different psychotherapy techniques or pair a psychotherapeutic approach with medication to form a unique treatment plan, often referred to as an integrative approach. 

Interpersonal (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy is a modern type of therapy developed in the 20th century. Which approach focuses on life events and relationships. Initially designed to treat major depressive disorder, it is now used to successfully treat substance dependency, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and other forms of depression that involve problematic behaviors. Due to its success and popularity, the use of IPT as a reliable psychotherapy treatment for mental health issues continues to grow, and studies have shown its effectiveness is comparable to using medication.

Usages for IPT 

IPT is a person-centered therapy format; the primary purpose of IPT is often to allow clients to explore strategies and mechanisms, engage in self-exploration and develop strategies for improving their interpersonal relationships. IPT therapists may aim to decrease stressors in a client's life incurred from unhealthy interpersonal relationships through skills like setting boundaries, saying "no," or moving on from unhealthy connections in a healthy manner. 

The one-on-one sessions may focus on the client's awareness of conflict, how conflict could begin, and positive methods of resolving it. The treatment for IPT may be based on a specific timeline and could last from 12 to 16 weeks. Therapy sessions are often conducted individually but may also be arranged in a group setting, depending on treatment goals.  

The first few sessions of IPT are often devoted to assessing the client's symptoms and concerns related to dysfunctional emotions. Once a clear pattern has been established, the remaining sessions may be dedicated to helping the individual develop the appropriate strategies to recognize and resolve behavioral patterns. 

Target topics in IPT

There are four primary issues that IPT targets, incorporating aspects of dysfunctional thinking and abnormal behaviors. These points of the therapy include: 

  1. Interpersonal deficits: How and what is lacking in their social interactions? What aspects of their interpersonal relationships feel unfulfilled or lacking? How do their identity and beliefs contribute to their dissatisfaction?
  2. Grief and loss: Are there challenges related to losing a loved one that may connect with the client's interpersonal struggles?
  3. Interpersonal conflict challenges: Is the client struggling to manage and resolve conflicts with coworkers, family, partners, friends, or the public? Are psychodynamic therapies needed to uncover unconscious meanings behind these conflicts?
  4. Adjustment concerns: Is the client struggling to adjust to a significant change in their life, such as losing a job, separating, or experiencing an adverse event? Can existential therapy provide insights into their response to these changes?

For interpersonal psychotherapy treatment to be successful, the client may have to invest in willingness, self-respect, and effort to embrace the concept of free will. They may receive homework, ongoing assessments, and interviews, as IPT often follows a specific structure and aims to provide therapy effectively. 

In IPT, the focus may not be on past events or pain but on the present moment. The main goal is often to help patients learn and change unhealthy behavioral patterns and false perceptions in the client's interpersonal relationships. As the treatment evolves, the strategies may also adapt to better treat people and their unique needs.

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Invented during the 1960s, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines behavioral therapy and cognitive-based psychotherapy (hence, cognitive-behavioral). Therapists often use it in conjunction with other therapies or medication to treat mental health conditions, stress, or distressing symptoms.

CBT can address substance abuse, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, and other conditions. It can also teach coping skills and promote greater self-awareness by helping individuals become aware of the nexus of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

CBT has also been found to be helpful in addressing low self-esteem, which is linked with depression, through the use of techniques such as self-compassion. It can also reduce responses to stigma such as rumination, avoidance, and perfectionism. 

CBT methods  

Clients of CBT may work on not dwelling on upsetting or wrongful events but on the emotional and physical importance that they place on these events or the beliefs and behaviors developed. CBT often involves challenging belief systems and patterns to create more favorable circumstances, thoughts, and behaviors. In CBT, clients may learn how to make a positive change in their behavior by deciding to make that change in their thought processes. 

For example, someone experiencing anxiety may feel reluctant to attend a work event because they are worried about getting along with their coworkers or being unliked. As a result of this negative thought, the individual may avoid all team building and work events. By doing so, they might miss an opportunity to bond and socialize with their colleagues and develop more positive associations with socializing. Self-fulfilling cycles might affirm a person's fears. In this example, the colleagues might view the individual as cold, aloof, or unwilling to mingle. 

Often, these negative thoughts may be automatic patterns for individuals and stem from past experiences. For instance, if a child only receives empathy from their parents when they excel in school or exhibit certain behaviors, they may become an adult that feels terrified of failing because they associate love with perfection.

CBT is one of the most effective forms or types of therapy for depression and other mental health conditions like eating disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and mood disorders. It is a short-term therapy that lasts from three to ten months, with one weekly session. Each participant collaborates with a therapist to establish specific goals and timelines.

Treatment plans 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can extend beyond talk therapy, which is largely the cognitive part of the treatment, and include routines or patterns taken up as part of the behavior therapy aspect. A therapist may work with their client to develop a treatment plan, including techniques and exercises such as writing in a journal, engaging in relaxation and mindfulness activities, or participating in physical and social activities. 

While treatment may be a short-term process, it can come with challenges. It can require expertise from a therapist and a firm commitment and active participation from the client to work together toward a common goal. CBT might also not be effective for treating severe mental health conditions or treatment-resistant symptoms. While it can form a part of someone's treatment plan, it may not be the only treatment. 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Disclaimer: If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 

Developed in the 1970s, dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) was initially used to treat individuals who were chronically preoccupied with suicidal thoughts or living with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT has since become a psychotherapy for treating individuals experiencing severe emotional dysregulation or treatment-resistant symptoms. 

The dialectical part of Dialectical behavioral therapy employs the idea of two opposites—acceptance and change—coming together. 

Functions of DBT 

Treatment using dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), a client centered therapy, may be based on problem-solving and allowing a participant to accept or come to terms with their situation. The approach uses dialectical methods inspired by gestalt therapy, in which two opposing concepts, like change and acceptance, can merge. Additionally, operant conditioning principles may be incorporated to reinforce desired behaviors and extinguish undesired ones. It involves the following four modules: 

  • Emotional control
  • Distress tolerance
  • Mindfulness
  • Interpersonal effectiveness 

DBT combines different types of therapy: individual therapy, and group therapy, along with team consultation, and telehealth. The therapist uses individual sessions to bond with the client and understand their unique needs and challenges, while the different types of group therapy may enable the clients to enhance their behavioral skills and practice what they have learned. It may also allow them to feel motivated and supported. 

Clients may be able to reach out to their therapists over the phone for support in overcoming a challenging situation. The creation and use of a consultation team are often integral to DBT due to the types of mental health conditions the therapists treat. Team consultation supports therapists when navigating complex cases.

Dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) is implemented via four stages to ensure that every concern is addressed and that the client's issues are treated in order of importance and severity. The four stages are as follows. 

Stabilization

Before beginning therapy, stabilization may occur. This step can be crucial as many of the clients DBT therapists see are experiencing emotional distress, risk of self-harm, difficulty in relationships, and other challenges. The therapist will assess and manage the current crisis, intervene if necessary, and stabilize the situation to remove any immediate threats. Stabilization can offer the client methods of exerting control over their behavior through immediate nervous system exercises like mindfulness. 

Emotional distress

During the second stage, the therapist may encourage the client to face the emotional challenges they may have repressed. Traumatic and painful events can be revisited in a safe, controlled environment so the individual can confront and accept them. 

Quality of life

The third stage is designed to help the individual improve their quality of life by maintaining their progress in therapy and setting realistic, achievable goals for themselves. The goal in this stage may be to increase happiness and prepare for the final step.

The next steps

Stage four touches upon the successes of stage three. The goal is for the individual to maintain stability and happiness on an ongoing basis by incorporating the skills and lessons they learned in therapy into their daily lives. They may graduate from DBT after the fourth step, with a celebration held by their therapist or therapy group. Research indicates a high rate of success and efficacy in DBT. 

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Sometimes it helps to talk things out with a neutral party

It is a common misconception that these types of psychotherapy only serve people diagnosed with severe mental health conditions. It is this belief that may further stigmatize seeking counseling or therapy.

While psychotherapy can effectively address mental health disorders, it can be acceptable and normal for individuals to seek therapeutic guidance for various issues not related to a mental health diagnosis. Over 41 million US adults attend therapy each year.

The causes for going to therapy can vary but might include the following: 

  • Coping with a significant life event such as losing employment, experiencing a death in the family, reconciling the end of a relationship, welcoming the birth of a child, or moving 
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Recovering from a traumatic experience 
  • Relieving stress or anxiety 
  • Gaining self-compassion, self-esteem, and self-understanding 
  • Family concerns
  • Learning coping skills to handle stress and negative feelings
  • Seeking a supportive environment to express feelings
  • Cope with daily life stressors 

Many therapists employ different approaches to provide effective treatment that is tailored to the needs of their patients. When looking for a mental health professional, it's also important to check the therapist's credentials—whether they are licensed, their experience, and qualifications for working with the modality you're interested in.

However, since many insurance plans require a mental health diagnosis to offer coverage for psychotherapy, it's advisable to check your policy beforehand. Some people are also concerned that a mental health diagnosis will go on their medical record, so prefer to pay out of pocket, in which case there are affordable options available, such as online psychotherapy.

Mental health and self-fulfillment 

Along with the benefits of talk therapy to address mental health challenges and concerns, psychotherapy may also serve individuals to realize their ultimate goals in life. 

In psychology, the concept of self-actualization refers to our innate need to realize our full potential, developing our abilities and appreciation for life in authentic, creative ways. Originally developed by Kurt Goldstein, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow, this need for fulfillment figures on top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, tending to arise once other needs have been met. For many people, self-fulfillment and authentic living may a major life goals, which can be explored in psychotherapy. 

Different counseling options

Online therapy can be as impactful as in-person types of psychotherapy. Studies conducted on the use of internet-based CBT in pediatric clients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) showed an average savings amount of $144.98 per client compared to in-person treatments.  

Along with increased availability, online therapy shows promise in treating various diagnosed mental health conditions. People living with substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), for example, have experienced significant reductions in troubling symptoms.

Many forms of psychotherapy are available online and in person. With online therapy, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with your licensed therapist.  If you are interested in speaking with a licensed professional, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp, which offers a therapist match from their list of thousands of qualified therapists within 24 to 48 hours of signing up.

Takeaway

Psychotherapy can effectively treat many mental health conditions, symptoms, and concerns. Depending on your insurance requirements, you do not have to have a mental health condition or diagnosis to attend therapy. If you're interested in learning more about the therapy process or other types of counseling methods, consider reaching out to a therapist for further insight.

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