Four Common Types Of Psychotherapy And How To Make The Most Of Your Sessions

Updated April 27, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When people struggle with challenges such as anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, or trauma related disorders, they may turn to therapy to learn coping mechanisms and receive support. There are many potential benefits of therapy, and there are a variety of methods available to help individuals understand their concerns and find ways to address them. Various methods offered by mental health professionals such as licensed professional counselors and family therapists help individuals understand their concerns and find ways to address them.

In this article, we’ll explore four common types of psychotherapy and their psychotherapy definition: cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, family systems therapy, and group therapy. We’ll also provide tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your treatment plan, regardless of the chosen therapy type.

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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 therapy or supportive therapy, can help individuals cope with mental illnesses like depression, panic disorder, and other mental disorders. Mental health professionals, such as psychiatric nurses and social workers, provide care alongside other mental health professionals who may prescribe medications or offer alternative interventions like animal assisted therapy or psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Some of these types of therapy—for example, psychodynamic therapy—have been around for a while and are still in common use. Other types of therapy, such as neurofeedback therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), have developed more recently. There are also types of counseling such as marriage, family, guidance, mental health counseling, and more.

The method or methods a therapist uses often depends both on what the patient needs and on the therapist’s training and areas of specialization. Some therapists specialize in treating trauma-related issues, such as PTSD, while others focus on conditions such as depression. The most effective psychotherapists have training and experience that allow them to treat a range of conditions.

There are different types of counselors or therapists. Some therapists may specialize in family therapy or working with children, while others may specialize in working with adults or with couples. 

Having some familiarity with different types of therapy for depression, eating disorders, PTSD and other mental health conditions may help you decide which type might be the best option for you. Below, we’ll explore a few common methods therapists use today.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) typically focus on changing patterns of negative thoughts and introducing new, healthier ways of thinking, allowing the person receiving treatment to improve their mental health. CBT also often involves using these new thought patterns to 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. While this intensive form of therapy can be done over a short period and may be challenging, it has proven effective in treating various types of mental illness.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

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; the focus is really on relationship patterns, rather than other symptoms or concerns. Situations in which interpersonal psychotherapy might be helpful include the treatment of unresolved grief, distress following a divorce, or conflicts within families or in the workplace.

Family Systems Therapy

As the name suggests, family systems therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the family as a unit and aims to help individuals resolve any problems within that context. In this approach, a key idea is that when something happens to one individual in the family, the whole family is affected; a primary goal here is to help families develop healthier relationships. This type of therapy can be used for families experiencing conflict, as well as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and more.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a form of treatment for groups of individuals who are all experiencing the same type of mental health condition, for example, issues with substance use, PTSD, depression, or anger management. This type of therapy brings people together in a group setting moderated by a therapist who offers therapeutic support to the participants and helps make sure the session runs smoothly. There are many types of group therapy to choose from depending on the area that needs to be addressed.

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. If you think group therapy is not for you, opt for individual therapy. There are a ton of resources online that answers the "What is individual therapy?" about.

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How To Make The Most Of Your Therapy Sessions

Whichever type of psychological therapy you use, there are ways to make the most of your sessions. While a therapist can guide you, the way in which you participate can affect how beneficial the sessions are for you.  

Below are a few things you might try to make the most of your therapy sessions:

Share 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 once you are comfortable. Being open and honest can help your therapist learn about who you are as an individual, give you guidance and feedback, and then discuss which next steps might be most beneficial to you. 

Create Goals For Yourself

Having an idea of what you hope to get from your therapy sessions can be an important step in your journey toward better mental health. This doesn't mean that you have to have everything figured out in advance; instead, it can mean having a general idea of areas that you would like to work on in therapy and how you want to improve your mental health. At the beginning of your sessions, your therapist may ask what you're hoping to get from therapy, or which areas of your mental health you want to work on or need the most improvement. Having 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 With The Process

Sometimes, people may go into therapy hoping for a quick fix, but often, therapy takes 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 therapy. It can take time for you to see any improvements in your mental disorder 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 Therapy 

If you are interested in trying therapy but feel overwhelmed trying to sort through the different types 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 the cost of online therapy can be less than dealing with health insurance. 

A growing body of evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy 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.”


Supportive psychotherapy is a broad field with a number of different psychotherapy techniques. Certain types of treatment might work for some individuals, while other people might benefit from a different method. Whichever type you use, you may consider trying some of the tips above to make the most of your sessions. With online therapy, you can find a licensed therapist with experience helping individuals with similar concerns.

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