Types Of Therapy: Definitions, Methods And More

Updated October 8, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When people think of types of different therapy, it's easy to picture a mental health professional sitting across from a client practicing psychoanalysis, the gold standard of many practices. That being said, “therapy” can be synonymous with a variety of treatment methods and can even be offered as online therapy in today's world. This article will look specifically at mental health approaches to highlight the many different therapy styles of this umbrella (CBT, DBT, non directive therapy, and more). If you question whether or not therapy can help you, rest assured that therapy can benefit everyone, no matter your beliefs, the country you're from, or how old you are. We hope you find this article helpful in attempting to find a therapy style that best suits your needs. 


In simple terms, most types of psychotherapy (also known as Talk Therapy) are described as the use of psychological techniques and methods to help improve or strengthen an individual's mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. Most psychotherapy treatments are done one-on-one between the individual and the psychotherapist, but depending on the issue, some types of therapy can happen in a couple, group, or family setting as well.

Psychotherapists are typically mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers. They can also be psychology professionals like a counselor who are trained in a specific field of therapy. Most therapists will not prescribe medications because only psychiatrists have the ability and authority to prescribe medication; other therapists and counselors cannot.

Therapy is highly recommended as a first-line treatment for essentially every kind of mental disorder, and therapy is often used in conjunction with medication from a doctor. Consult with your primary care physician before taking any medication in case it interacts poorly with any previous medical issues you may have. If you're considering any kind of therapy for the very first time, don't worry. Countless people have been in the same boat, and therapy has helped them to successfully manage their conditions or other challenging life elements. 

Not Sure Which Type Of Therapy Is Right For You?

Different Forms Of Therapy


This is among the most common types of therapeutic approaches and is frequently used by individuals to help them get through a rough patch with their existing symptoms or emotional distress. It has less to do with medical problems and more to do with receiving help or support to get through common, everyday problems. It can be used to help an individual grapple with anger management issues or to help a couple looking to resolve relationship concerns. It can even help someone consider their career options. Counseling sessions are usually one hour long, and the client can decide how often they want to see their counselor, whether that's once a month, once a week, or any other amount. Wellness professionals sometimes fall under the category of counselors depending on their level of schooling and their end goals with their clients. 

Mindfulness-Based Therapy:

Used to treat depression, stress, addiction challenges, and anxiety disorder, self esteem, mindfulness-based therapy helps individuals accept and focus on their emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them. It encourages letting the past go and disregarding future worries by developing a deeper awareness of the present. Similarly, stress-based therapy (MBSR) uses activities like exercise, yoga, and meditation to help individuals manage and cope with an illness. Sometimes these exercises are combined with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to help overcome depression.

Family Therapy:

This type of psychotherapy is designed to help families come to terms with or overcome a problem. It's particularly useful when the actions of an individual or a group of people are hurting the family unit. These problems could include the following:

  • Divorce
  • Substance use disorder
  • Domestic violence
  • Death
  • Grief
  • Issues with adolescent behaviors 
  • PTSD
  • Mental health disorders or disability

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

Four different types of therapies are available under the branch of family therapy:

  1. Cognitive-based Therapy (CBT): This behavioral therapy method helps people develop more insight on acute mental health issues, and change their mindset and/or behavior to address and solve the problem at hand.
  2. Systemic Family Therapy: With this method, the feelings, ideas, and problems of the whole family are reviewed and deconstructed to figure out what's causing a rift in the family.
  3. Supportive Family Therapy
  4. Psychodynamic Method: The psychodynamic therapy method looks at an individual's subconscious mind. It focuses on getting to the root cause of the underlying issue rather than addressing surface problems.

With the assistance of a trained therapist who uses a type of therapy listed above, a family dealing with a particular issue can understand the root cause of their problems, learn to communicate better, and ideally find a happy medium that benefits everyone.

Couples Therapy:

This type of therapy is designed for couples who are going through a rough patch or trying to recover from a serious problem. These problems could include dealing with the aftermath of an affair, money troubles, or the need to understand each other better. Sessions can be done together or individually.

Group Therapy:

It's usually most effective in a small group of up to a dozen individuals, and the rules of confidentiality apply. A key benefit of group therapy is the knowledge that others are going through a similar experience and that you're not alone. It's enormously helpful to have a support system that can relate to your experiences and emotions. Plus, you can learn from what others have gone through. One of the many peer reviewed studies on group therapy versus individual therapy showed that group therapy was actually more beneficial than individual therapy for obese patients. It is important to note that while this study underwent systematic review, there are hundreds of studies like this one that provide similar and contrasting findings. 

Group therapy can help with things like the following:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Depression
  • Medical problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Grief

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT):

This research based type of therapy is often used to help people deal with depression and anxiety disorders, but it can be used to treat a host of other mental health issues as well. The CBT approach focuses on the present instead of delving into past events and problems. One example of this kind of therapy is eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy, working to heal your symptoms of emotional distress. The goal of CBT is to change a patient's negative thought patterns and bring back positive feelings in their life. Studies have shown that CBT is useful for people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, substance use disorders, mood disorders, phobias, and many other conditions.

CBT is a goal-oriented approach to counseling. It works to change thinking patterns to improve how a person feels. However, it must be stressed that CBT does not provide a physical cure for symptoms. It simply provides people with the ability to deal with their symptoms, thereby lessening the distressing effects. The therapist leads the session to help with symptoms, but does not cure them. In many cases, it's a far more effective treatment than using a medication, but in some cases, it's most effective when combined with medicine.

Because it's such a specific style of therapy, CBT is not useful for everyone, and it requires a strong commitment and willingness to cooperate with the therapist. Like most types of therapy, CBT can be done in either individual therapy (such as for depression disorders) or group settings (such as for eating disorders).

Exposure Therapy:

A type of CBT, exposure therapy helps with illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder. It allows people to face their fears and phobias by continuously exposing them to the things they fear until that fear is gone.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT):

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a type of psychodynamic psychotherapy that teaches group skills to help people or a person learn and utilize skills that they need to create a life that they appreciate, such as for substance abuse treatment. It is commonly used for substance abuse disorders, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and more. 

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT):

IPT is usually used to treat milder forms of depression. It's a 12-16 week program with weekly one-hour sessions in which the therapist and individual follow a specific science-based treatment regime. The treatment tackles the three components of depression: symptom formation, personality issues, and problems functioning in society.

The purpose of IPT is to understand depression, address its components, provide the individual with coping mechanisms, reduce their symptoms, and repair their interpersonal relationships with friends, families, etc.

Behavioral Activation (BA):

This is a technique used in CBT to treat depression. Studies have shown that BA is every bit as effective as other more complicated treatments and even medication in some cases. This method works to reverse depression by monitoring the individual's moods and encouraging them to be more engaged in positive activities they normally wouldn't do. Then it helps them find value and happiness in those interactions. The goal is to create a strong support system around the individual, have their positive feelings outweigh the negatives, and provide them with the skills they'll need to get through future rough patches.


While the types of therapies listed above all fall under the umbrella of psychotherapy, psychotherapy in itself is also a type of therapy. Instead of focusing on the present like CBT, psychotherapy delves into the past to understand the issues and difficulties a person may be facing in the present. Psychotherapy sessions are longer than CBT, lasting an hour instead of half an hour, and can continue for as long as the person needs them.

Is Therapy Only For People With A Mental Illnesses?

There is a common misconception that therapy is only for people who are mentally ill, and there is often a stigma attached to the idea of seeing a therapist. There's even a myth that you must be diagnosed with a mental illness to get help from a therapist. In reality, this is false, and all types of therapy are so much more than a treatment for mental illness.

As we live our everyday lives, it's normal to feel a range of emotions. We all feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad, depressed, and confused from time to time. Going to see a therapist can help us muddle through this jumble of emotions. Sometimes it's necessary and can even be the smart thing to do when you need to take control of your life and take care of yourself.

Everyone deserves to enjoy life to the fullest. If there are treatments and therapies available to help you do it, then it's worth seeking professional help. It's easy to forget that pain isn't always physical; it can also be emotional. That's where psychotherapy comes into play. If you feel like you need to speak to someone or get help with a problem or issue, reach out to get some relief right away. There are treatments such as unconditional positive regard, an aspect used in humanistic therapy, or systematic desensitization, used for phobias, that are just two of hundreds of techniques therapists use to help you get where you want to be. 

Plenty of information about therapists and counselors in your area can be found online. If you need immediate guidance or assistance, you can also go to the nearest hospital; they are staffed with therapists who can help you in urgent situations. Most companies and workplaces also have counselors available to discuss any problems you might be experiencing or when unsettling behaviors develop and you are unsure what to do.

As mentioned previously, the same code applies in group therapy sessions.

Furthermore, it's important to remember that therapy is not a quick fix, band-aid solution to a problem. It's a careful, methodical practice that creates a proper foundation, so the individual in need can find contentment in their life. Therefore, it can take months or even years before you see any significant changes or results, but results will come.

If you're currently in therapy, stay committed and keep participating because it can give you the necessary tools to lead a positive, successful life.

If you’re considering therapy, find one who specializes in a type of therapy that you think will work best for you. An in-person or online therapist can guide you toward the goals you and your therapist have come up with together. A healthcare provider can help you find a therapist that is right for you. 

Online Therapy As An Option For You

If finding time for a session is a challenge for you, online therapy is an option. A study has shown that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional sessions. Ninety-six percent of people using online therapy reported feeling a personal connection with their online therapists as opposed to 91 percent who saw face-to-face therapists. They were also more invested in completing homework the therapists assigned them and occasionally reviewed correspondence between them and their therapists, leading them to move forward with their lives.

Not Sure Which Type Of Therapy Is Right For You?

BetterHelp's Online Platform: Safe, Affordable, Convenient

If you're looking for someone to talk to, you can find a licensed and professional online therapist at BetterHelp. They can assist you with gaining tools to help you deal with issues in your life, including an assessment of the types of therapy applicable to your life. You’ll be able to see your therapist at your convenience and an affordable rate. Be sure to read the reviews below to see what others have said about BetterHelp counselors.

BetterHelp Therapist Reviews

"Chris has been instrumental in my recovery, partnering with me these few months from a deeply broken place to where I am now: healing, a positive work-in-progress. He is patient, he listens without judgment and he offers a different perspective on how I can and should approach a challenge. Chris, thank you for your support, it meant a lot to me."

"Kelli is fantastic and knowledgeable at what she does. On top of that, she is incredibly passionate about each of her clients and goes above and beyond to make sure they succeed and find answers to their questions. I highly recommend Kelli to anyone who needs guidance in their life and the structure to send them in the right direction. Kelli offers many exercises and worksheets to help you understand yourself better and reach your goals. I've laughed and cried with her! Highly recommend Kelli!

Therapy Conclusion

Hopefully, this article helped you gain a better understanding of the different types of therapy available and what they entail. Finding the right one for you might seem overwhelming at first, but a great therapist can support you. Take the first step today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the common types of therapy?

There are a number of types of therapies available to those looking to get mental health treatment or to deal with life changes. Some of the most common types include humanistic therapy (also known as person centered therapy or client centered therapy), cognitive behavior therapy, existential therapy, gestalt therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). There are also a number of lesser known therapies such as animal assisted therapy, art therapy, emotion focused therapy, and more that can help individuals deal with these same issues in a different manner. 

What are the 4 major types of psychological therapies?

The four major types of psychological therapies are cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and humanistic or experiential therapy. 

What is the most common type of therapy?

The most common type of therapy is actually a tie between psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy. Psychoanalytic therapy is a talk therapy that focuses on how unconscious thoughts affect someone’s life (including self esteem, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, etc.) Psychodynamic therapy involves the theories of psychoanalytic therapy, but tends to last for a lesser amount of time and focuses more on both someone’s internal and external world. 

What is the most effective type of therapy?

The most effective type of therapy varies from individual to individual and depends on the mental health issue or the mental health condition the client is looking to treat. For instance, a client with a mental health diagnosis of borderline personality disorder may seek out a different type of therapy than someone with a different mental health condition such as substance abuse or different psychiatric disorders. Whatever the mental health issue you may have, there is a type of therapy out there that can help you. 

What are therapy techniques?

There are a number of different techniques therapists use within a therapy session to help treat their clients. Some involve mindfulness techniques to help one stay in the present moment, while others involve leveraging exposure to stimuli to treat fears and phobias. If you are interested in learning more about therapy medically reviewed as well, there are a number of resources out there to explain the latest in the therapy field as well as examples of techniques used throughout history. 

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