Types Of Therapy: An Overview

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Many depictions of therapy are available in the media, often showcasing a style of talk therapy that may be considered outdated in modern psychology. Mental health treatment is an ever-evolving field of practice. In this article, we give an overview of the different types of therapy that therapists and healthcare providers are currently practicing.

Although talk therapy is one of the most common types of counseling, studies show that over 400 different therapeutic modalities exist. With therapies involving animals, unique tools, art, music, and more, there are various ways to receive mental health support.

If you question whether therapy can help you, note that multiple types of therapy exist. Learning more about these options can help you make an informed decision about the type of counseling you receive and how to find the right therapy options for your unique situation.

Unsure what type of therapy is right for you?

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, uses research-backed talking techniques, worksheets, guided exercises, and other forms of support to improve or strengthen an individual's mental, emotional, and social well-being. Many psychotherapy methods may be based on peer reviewed studies conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, the largest organization of therapists in the world. Therapy can provide a safe environment for clients to process difficult emotions, address irrational beliefs, work on any behavioral issues, or otherwise work through any mental or emotional issues they may be experiencing.

Many psychotherapy treatments are done one-on-one between an individual and a psychotherapist. You may refer to articles online to learn what individual therapy is. and how it works. Still, therapy can also happen in a couple, group, or family setting, depending on the client's needs. 

Psychotherapists are mental health professionals, like psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers. They can also be counselors with a psychology or social work degree, and often work with their patients to treat cognitive or behavior concerns or conditions such as eating disorders, bipolar disorder, or anxiety conditions. Psychotherapy provides mental health support, and therapists cannot prescribe medications. Psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, can prescribe medication, perform medical and diagnostic testing, and offer counseling. 

Therapy is often recommended as a first-line treatment for various mental illnesses and emotional challenges, and it may be used in conjunction with prescribed medication. Consult your primary healthcare provider before stopping, starting, or changing medication. While psychotherapy can be an effective option for addressing mental health problems, if you are having an emergency, you may need to contact a trained crisis counselor or emergency services instead.

What are the various therapy forms available? 

Below are a few of the many types of psychotherapy that clients can partake in. 


Counseling is among the most common types of therapy and is frequently used by individuals to discuss life challenges and emotional distress. These therapy sessions may focus less on medical problems in the therapy psychodynamic and more on receiving support to meet personal goals.

It can help an individual grapple with anger management issues or help a couple resolve relationship concerns. Counseling can also help someone consider their career options. 

Counseling sessions range from 30 minutes to an hour in length, and the client can decide how often they want to attend, whether once a month, once a week, or any other frequency. 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, substance use challenges, anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem, mindfulness-based therapy helps individuals accept and focus on their emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness-based therapy encourages clients to accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment.

It encourages moving forward from the past and growing through future worries by developing an awareness of the present. Stress-based therapy (MBSR) uses exercise, yoga, and meditation to help individuals manage and cope with an illness. These exercises may sometimes be combined with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to treat depression.

Family psychotherapy

Family psychotherapy helps families come to terms with or overcome concerns impacting multiple family constituents. Family therapy can be beneficial when the actions of an individual or a group of people are hurting the family unit. These concerns could include the following:

  • Divorce
  • Substance use disorders 
  • Domestic violence
  • Grief and loss 
  • Adolescent concerns 
  • Mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another concern
  • Adoption or fostering 
  • Conflict
  • Communication challenges 

With the assistance of a trained therapist, a family dealing with a particular issue can understand the root cause, learn to communicate, and discuss solutions that benefit everyone. 

Couples counseling

Couples therapy supports couples experiencing challenges or looking for growth. These challenges could include discussing an affair, financial concerns, or wanting to increase intimacy. Couples sessions might be done together or individually through various types of relationship therapy.

If you're considering couples therapy, note that it is not only for couples experiencing conflict or divorce. Any couples, including unmarried ones, may benefit from meeting with a therapist, and you do not have to have a mental health diagnosis or severe challenge to schedule a session.

Group therapy

Group therapy often includes a group of individuals experiencing a similar diagnosis or challenge. Despite the many types of group therapy, a potential benefit of group therapy is knowing that others are going through a similar experience and that you're not alone. In addition, you can learn what others have gone through and make friends.  

Group therapy is often used in the treatment of the following: 

  • Substance use disorders
  • Depression
  • Medical concerns 
  • Relationship challenges 
  • Grief
  • Self harm
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a research-based therapy often used to help clients address symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. However, a CBT therapist can also use this method to treat other mental health issues. The CBT approach focuses on the present instead of delving into past events.

CBT, which stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, largely focuses on the mental health issue of how maladaptive behaviors develop due to negative thought patterns. Many therapists apply the principles of CBT to their approaches to treating psychiatric disorders, substance use, or emotional regulation. 

As the title “behavioral therapy” implies, CBT focuses on addressing and adjusting behaviors. It aims to challenge clients' negative thoughts and help them understand how their thought patterns may be connected to their behaviors and moods. CBT may also be used to help in addressing certain feelings or regulating emotions. Studies have shown that CBT benefits people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, substance use disorders, mood disorders, phobias, and other conditions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a goal-oriented approach to counseling. It works to change thinking patterns to improve how a person feels. However, CBT does not physically cure symptoms.

It allows people to learn to care for themselves, lessening the distressing effects. It focuses on self-empowerment, growth, and self-esteem. CBT can help individuals change their behavioral reactions using emotional control skills learned during sessions. 

CBT may not be useful for everyone. It can require a commitment and willingness to cooperate and try new skills. Like many types of therapy, you can do CBT in individual, couples, family, or group settings.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of CBT often beneficial in treating conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder or phobias. This form of behavior therapy allows clients to face their fears by continuously exposing them to what they fear through desensitization.

The practice starts small and grows in intensity. However, the client controls what occurs and can let the therapist know how they'd like to begin. 

Exposure therapy is based on the behavioral theory that systematic desensitization can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Current literature supports the idea that every time a person with symptoms of anxiety or OCD avoids something because of a feared outcome, it strengthens neural connections that associate the activity with danger (even when no danger is present).

Exposure therapy may be able to help rewire the brain to remove maladaptive mental processes that lead to anxiety and avoidance. ERP has been found to be over 90% effective in causing symptom remission in those with OCD. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic method developed in the 1980s as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It involves and eight-step process of memory processing and mental rehabilitation centered on desensitizing a patient to their traumatic memories via bilateral stimulation (BLS), or stimulation to both sides of the brain largely through the use of redirected eye movements.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) and other mental health conditions characterized by intense emotions. It involves four modules, including: 

  • Mindfulness skills 
  • Distress tolerance
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Emotional control

DBT can be done in groups, for families, or as individuals. You don't have to have a personality disorder to benefit from DBT. As a structured therapy, anyone can take part. 

DBT builds off of the proven success of CBT therapy in helping clients understand the thought patterns behind their maladaptive behaviors.

The word dialectical means to combine opposite ideas. DBT therapists help their clients replace negative coping skills with positive ones, without invalidating the client’s strong emotions. Sessions of dialectical behavior therapy may integrate group therapy, behavioral experiments, and creating crisis plans. 

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is often used to treat specific forms of depression. It's a 12 to 16-week program with weekly one-hour sessions in which the therapist and individual follow a specific treatment regime. The treatment tackles the three components of depression, including symptom formation, personality issues, and social functioning problems.

IPT aims to understand depression, address its components, provide the individual with coping mechanisms, reduce symptoms, and repair interpersonal relationships with friends and family. 

Behavioral activation (BA)

Behavioral activation is a CBT technique to treat depression. Studies have shown that BA is as effective as more complicated treatments and medications in some cases. Through this method, therapists monitor individuals' moods and encourage them to engage more in positive activities, helping them find value and happiness in those interactions.

The goal is to create a robust support system around the individual, have their positive feelings outweigh the negatives, and provide them with the skills they seek to get through future challenging moments. 

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy also called more simply psychodynamic therapy, is a type of therapy that focuses on self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. This therapeutic approach is a newer modality that veers away from now outdated ideas about mental health conditions. Rather than treating mental illness like a disease that needs to be cured, this approach looks at how things such as interpersonal relationships, self-awareness, and emotional blindspots play into symptoms of mental health conditions. During psychodynamic psychotherapy sessions, clients can expect to delve deep into their personal thoughts, beliefs, and feelings to reveal deeper truths about themselves, while the therapist facilitates the process by asking open-ended questions. 

A meta-analysis of the results of psychodynamic psychotherapy on 1,431 patients with varying mental health conditions, published in American Psychologist, reported that the 9-month follow-up revealed that DBT therapy could be more effective than antidepressants for reducing existing symptoms. Not only that, but the benefits of the treatment seemed to continue and increase months after the treatment ended. A systematic review of eight meta-analyses supported the claim that psychodynamic psychotherapy is an effective treatment option, even for personality disorders like BPD.  

Humanistic and existential therapy

“Unconditional positive regard” is a term psychotherapists use to describe the mental process of increasing self-respect, self-compassion, and self-esteem, which can play a significant part in forming positive behaviors and thought patterns. 

Humanistic therapy and existential therapy are both considered brief therapies. So what are humanistic and existential therapies and what is the difference between the two? 

Brief therapies are meant to create rapid changes in the client’s lifestyle and personal thoughts, based on the idea that all humans can re-direct themselves in their lives by developing their self-respect and motivation. This form of therapy is often recommended for substance abuse treatment because it can deliver faster results than other types of therapy that may require extensive talking about the past or participating in behavioral experiments.  

These modalities are both types of person centered therapy that seek to understand the human experience of the client rather than treating them as a series of mental health symptoms. Person centered therapy does not seek to cure someone of their mental health symptoms in the way that doctors cure a disease, rather it focuses on empowering the client to reach new levels of self-awareness that can lead to radical behavioral changes. 

Some people respond better to this than to traditional mental health services. These approaches can be used in substance abuse treatment and for treating psychiatric disorders. 

Humanistic therapy focuses on teaching self-acceptance, letting go of negative assumptions and attitudes about life, and promoting personal growth. On the other hand, existential therapy focuses on philosophies about life that can help people shift the way that they think and behave. It aims to teach people how to hold onto hope, remain resilient, and live meaningful lives in the face of life’s many challenges such as loneliness, loss, and suffering.

Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy was first practiced in Germany during the 1930s. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as: “a form of psychotherapy in which the central focus is on the totality of the client’s functioning and relationships in the here and now rather than on investigation of past experiences and developmental history”.

The main theme in this therapeutic modality is using behavioral experiments to bring out new levels of self-awareness in the client that can lead to personal growth. It may combine a variety of techniques, including role-play. It focuses on the here and now rather than the past and may help the client connect to how they are feeling in the present moment. Connecting with their current feelings during behavioral experiments in sessions may be able to help the client become self-aware of patterns in their thinking and how they react to things. 

It is based on the idea that humans don’t perceive their experiences in the world as an objective whole, but rather piece-by-piece, constructing their experiences along the way as they live day by day. Through this therapeutic system, clients can learn more about how their thoughts and behavioral patterns are organized. 


While the therapies listed above all fall under the umbrella of psychotherapy, psychotherapy is a type of therapy. Instead of focusing on the present, like CBT, psychotherapy delves into the past to understand the difficulties a person may be facing in the present. Psychotherapy sessions may last longer than CBT and take a more subconscious approach to treatment. 

Is therapy only for people with mental illnesses?

Mental health treatment can come with various myths and stigmas. One such myth is that therapy is only for those experiencing a mental health condition. Some may believe that you must be diagnosed with a mental health disorder or have a severe mental health challenge to reach out for a consultation. However, all types of therapy are much more than a treatment for mental health. 

Many people feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad, fearful, and confused from time to time. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 19.2% of adults received some form of mental health treatment in the previous twelve months. Seeing a therapist can help individuals manage their emotions, talk to a compassionate professional, and receive resources and guidance. It can be a way to get advice and feel in control of your life. 

Although therapy benefits a wide variety of individuals, it is not a quick fix or a band-aid solution to a problem. It's a careful, methodical practice that creates a proper foundation for the individual in need to find contentment in their life. It can take months or years to see significant changes or results, but results are common, and many forms of therapy have been found effective. 

If you're considering treatment, search for a mental health professional specializing in the type of therapy 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. You can also reach out to your primary care physician for a referral.

Unsure what type of therapy is right for you?

Alternative therapy options

Online therapy is an option if finding time for a session is a challenge. If you're looking for someone to talk to, you can find a licensed professional therapist through a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. There are hundreds of potential therapists online who can assist you with gaining tools to address challenges in your life, including assessing the types of therapy applicable to you. You can set a time to see your therapist at your convenience and at an affordable rate from home and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. With online therapy, you can also easily change therapists until you find one who is the right fit for you.

Online therapy is also effective. One study found that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional sessions. 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. Clients 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. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration declares that synchronous telehealth services are effective in treating serious mental illness as well as substance use disorder, offering advantages such as opportunities for healthcare providers in areas where there are shortages in qualified mental health professionals.

With professional help, those experiencing a variety of mental health issues or personal problems may go on to lead a fulfilling life.


Finding the most suitable type of therapy for you among the many types of psychological therapy might initially seem overwhelming. However, you can try several types of therapy or meet with a counselor that offers an integrative approach, which allows them to tailor your treatment plan and the modalities used to your specific needs. In addition, over 300 more types of therapies are available, so do your research to learn more about what's available in your area. Consider reaching out to a therapist to ask questions and gain further insight.
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