Common Types Of Therapy Used In Psychology

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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When people struggle with mental health challenges, they may turn to therapy to learn different types of coping mechanisms and receive support. There are many potential benefits of therapy, and there are a variety of methods available to help individuals understand and address their concerns. Different types of therapy offered by mental health professionals, such as licensed professional counselors and family therapists, help individuals understand their concerns and find ways to address them.

Four of the more common types of psychotherapy used to treat people include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, family systems therapy, and group therapy. Regardless of the form of therapy, there are strategies you can implement to maximize the effectiveness of your treatment plan.

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Common counseling methods

Just as there are various treatment methods for physical ailments, there are diverse approaches for addressing mental disorders and emotional distress. These treatment methods, often called talk counseling or supportive therapy, can help individuals cope with mental illnesses like depression, panic disorder, and other mental health conditions.

Mental health professionals can provide care, deliver cognitive therapy, prescribe medications, or offer alternative interventions like animal-assisted counseling or psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Some variations of counseling—for example, psychodynamic therapy—have been practiced for a long time and are still in common use. Other forms, such as neurofeedback therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, have developed more recently.

Specific forms of counseling, such as marriage, family, guidance, and mental health counseling, can provide more tailored support.

The method or methods a therapist uses often depend both on what the patient needs and on the therapist’s training and specialization. Some therapists specialize in treating trauma-related issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while others focus on other mental disorders such as depression. The most effective psychotherapists have training and experience that allow them to treat different conditions.

Different types of counselors or therapists focus on different areas. Some therapists may specialize in family therapy or working with children, while others may specialize in working with adults or with couples. Familiarity with different forms of therapy for depression, eating disorders, PTSD and other mental health conditions may help you decide which one might be the best option for you.

CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT, is a type of behavior therapy that typically focuses on changing negative thoughts or thought patterns and introducing new, healthier thought patterns. CBT also can involve using these new thought patterns to develop self-awareness and change specific behaviors.

During a session, the therapist might discuss the validity or realism of the patient's negative or unhelpful thoughts, then provide skills to reframe those thought patterns in the unconscious mind. While this intensive form can be done over a short period and may be challenging, it has been proven effective in treating various mental illnesses.

Psychodynamic

Psychodynamic therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that traces its roots to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory. This therapeutic method delves into the unconscious mind to explore and understand how past experiences, particularly those from early childhood, influence an individual's current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Through open-ended discussions and free association, clients are encouraged to explore their thoughts and emotions, gaining insight into unconscious processes that may be affecting their lives. 

The therapeutic relationship in psychodynamic therapy is central, as it serves as a microcosm of the client's interpersonal experiences. Transference and countertransference, where the client unconsciously projects feelings onto the therapist and vice versa, are key concepts in psychodynamic therapy. The goal of psychodynamic therapy is not only symptom relief but also the development of insight and self-awareness, leading to long-term changes in the client's emotional and relational functioning. 

Interpersonal

The primary aim of interpersonal psychotherapy is to help individuals improve their relationships with others. Interpersonal psychotherapy is intended to focus on the patient's ability to create and maintain healthy relationships with the people around them.

Situations in which interpersonal psychotherapy might be helpful include treating unresolved grief, distress following a divorce, or conflicts within families or in the workplace.

FST

As the name suggests, family systems therapy (FST) is a type of therapy that focuses on the family as a unit and aims to help individuals resolve any problems within that context. A foundational tenet of this approach is that when something happens to one individual in the family, the whole family is affected. 

The primary goal is to help families develop healthier relationships. This approach can be used for families experiencing conflict, as well as families where individual members are living with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and more.

Group counseling

Group therapy is a treatment for groups of individuals who are all experiencing the same form of mental health condition. This approach brings people together in a group setting moderated by a therapist who offers support to the participants and helps make sure the session runs smoothly.

There are many forms of group therapy available. 

Group therapy also provides an opportunity for the participants to listen to and learn from the other people in the group. Hearing about someone else's challenges can help the participants know that they are not alone in their feelings, and hearing how another person handled a particular situation may give the other participants ideas about how they might approach a similar problem in their own lives. 

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Other kinds of mental health support

With so many different types of talk therapy and psychological treatments available, patients have options when it comes to improving mental health. Some other types of therapy include: 

  • Client-centered Therapy 
  • Humanistic Therapy
  • Holistic Therapy
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Finding a therapist with a specialization may be beneficial as they will have experience in working with patients using that method. However, if you are unsure of where to start finding a generalized therapist with a broad range of skills may be appropriate. 

Maximize your sessions

Whichever form of psychological therapy you engage with, there are ways to get the most from your sessions. While a therapist can guide you, your participation level can affect how beneficial the sessions are.

Below are a few techniques you might try to get the most from your talking therapy sessions:

Speak honestly

Talking about certain experiences or issues can be challenging. However, when you are working with a therapist, it is usually best to be transparent when discussing your feelings or events in your life. Being open and honest can help your therapist learn about who you are as an individual, give you guidance and feedback, and discuss which next steps might be most beneficial to you. 

Create goals for yourself

Deciding what you hope to gain from your sessions can be an important step in your journey toward better mental health. You don’t have to have everything figured out in advance; but having a general idea of areas that you would like to work on in your sessions and how you want to improve your mental health can be helpful.

At the beginning, your therapist may ask what you're hoping to gain from your sessions, or which areas you want to work on or need the most improvement. Goals that you set in collaboration with your therapist can help both you and your therapist track how you’re doing.

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Be patient

Sometimes, people may go into different psychotherapy approaches hoping for a quick fix, but, counseling can take time and patience. As you embark on this journey, try to remember that the therapeutic process may be a long road, but if you stick with it, it can be very beneficial.

It can take time for your therapist to get to know you and to understand your situation and what brought you to counseling. It can take time for you to see any improvements in your mental health based on your sessions with your therapist. Remaining patient, open-minded, and receptive as you go through this journey may make it a more positive experience.

Engaging in online counseling

If you are interested in trying counseling but feel overwhelmed trying to sort through the different forms of therapy out there, online therapy may be a good fit. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can match with a therapist based on your particular needs, and you can find a licensed professional who has experience working with individuals with similar concerns or using your preferred approach—without having to even leave your home.

Many times online counseling's cost can be less than dealing with health insurance, and online therapists still need to adhere to the same secrecy policy requirements as in-person therapists, so you can be confident your mental health information is safe.

Continually growing evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of online counseling for a range of concerns. In fact, research has shown online therapy to be just as effective as in-person sessions for certain conditions: for example, a literature review found that internet-delivered CBT for anxiety or to treat depression resulted in reductions in symptoms “equivalent to or better than in-person CBT.”

Takeaway

There are many approaches to psychotherapy one can benefit from. Supportive psychotherapy is a broad field with a number of different psychotherapy techniques. Certain approaches to treatment might work for some individuals, while other people might benefit from a different method. Whichever form you use, you may consider trying some tips above to optimize your sessions. 

With online therapy, you can find a licensed therapist with experience helping individuals with similar concerns.

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