What Is Insight-Oriented Psychotherapy? Definition, Purposes, And Applications

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

One of the major obstacles for many people with mental health conditions is understanding how the past influences present behavior and state of mind. Self-understanding can be a perception that people utilize to gain insight into how early life or past experiences can impact their decisions and behaviors in the present. One of the types of therapies that have successfully helped many people make positive changes.

So, what is this type of therapy? Insight therapy is a form of treatment in which a therapist works with an individual to help them understand how their beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and experiences from their past impact their present state of mind. This form of psychotherapy or talk therapy is a client-centered method commonly used in various treatment modalities. This type of therapy may be relevant for many people because past experiences and inner feelings can have a rippling effect over time. The ultimate purposes of insight therapy can include helping individuals improve their life quality.

Need help deciding if insight therapy is right for you?

A thorough analysis of this therapy

Insight therapy is a form of psychotherapy. The psychotherapy definition can be applied to a wide selection of therapy modalities. A person who chooses insight-oriented therapy may meet with a therapist and talk with them to develop solutions to the problems that are negatively impacting their life. The therapist should create a safe space to discuss their client’s problems. The therapist meaning is a professional that can guide and help improve the client's mental health. Discussions can center around the client and how their beliefs, emotions, and feelings impact them in the present day. To get to this point, individuals may have to address and remember any underlying factors and experiences contributing to who they are and how they feel inside.

The success of insight therapy may depend upon the person and therapist building rapport with one another and can involve the client's willingness to discuss complex and painful subjects. The therapist helps offer support by asking leading questions, providing patience and validation, and challenging them to make healthier decisions.

The role of childhood

A person's childhood may significantly impact their quality of life as an adult, as these events often set a precedent for future relationships. The conflicts we experience as children can shape us and open the door for subsequent related experiences. A client's childhood can also impact their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs as an adult. For instance, a child who lacks close relationships with relatives and peers may grow up to harbor negative views about connecting with others.

Adverse childhood experiences can lead to high-stress levels and may change how the human brain develops. However, these negative experiences do not necessarily predetermine that a person's adulthood will be full of challenges and pain. Similarly, an ideal childhood does not necessarily mean that someone will grow into a productive and successful adult. 

While the specific nature of circumstances can vary, childhood may impact adulthood, whether for better or worse. Therefore, talking to clients about their childhood is often a central tenet of this type of therapy.

Prevalent themes

A person's underlying thoughts, beliefs, and emotions can be dominant themes in insight therapy, along with how they perceive the influence of these themes in their present life. During these sessions, clients may identify the experiences that have shaped their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. These can date back to occurrences from childhood or previous adult years.

This exercise can offer clarity and help individuals better understand themselves while further empowering them. When someone understands that specific thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are negatively affecting their life, they may decide to make a change.

Changing beliefs 

Insight therapy often focuses on understanding the past. Working with a therapist helps a person discover underlying experiences prompting symptoms and make changes in the present. Changes could include a change of environment, a change in the client's social circle, or a change in the limiting, disempowering belief systems that may be holding them back from living their best life.

Changing the mindset

Similarly, the power of one's mindset can be another prevalent theme in insight therapy. Your mindset may be influenced by your beliefs and self-perceptions that you utilize to develop your overall perspective on approaching life. A person's mindset can impact their decisions, how they carry themselves, and the treatment that someone accepts. 

Someone with a negative or self-defeating mindset may be susceptible to making poor life choices and surrounding themselves with unhealthy relationships. A person who believes in their abilities and actions and takes an optimistic approach may be able to successfully create positive outcomes. In creating outcomes, the relationship between an individual's childhood, mindset, and underlying thoughts, feelings, and beliefs may come full circle and connect in therapy. 

Why should someone use insight-oriented therapy? 

A few characteristics may indicate whether someone would benefit from insight therapy, including the following. 

Managing difficulties

Ongoing struggles in relationships with friends, relatives, coworkers, and others with whom you interact could indicate that insight therapy would be effective for you. When you discuss current relationship struggles, your family relationships may be explored in therapy.  

One example of this is feeling lonely despite having acquaintances and socializing regularly. If you relate, your therapist may guide a discussion about why you might avoid close relationships. An insight therapist may lead the conversation and help you look profoundly within your past childhood relationships with your family or caregivers. 

Self-esteem issues

You may find insight therapy beneficial if you struggle with your self-esteem or self-worth. In many scenarios, self-esteem issues can be traced to several internal issues. At times, issues with the self could result from childhood experiences or previously repressed occurrences that were not processed. If comorbid mental health conditions are present, such as eating disorders or anxiety disorders, these may also be addressed during sessions.

Self-esteem issues may also be prompted by one's environment or the individuals they surround themselves with. You might feel unsure about why you are having trouble with self-worth and self-esteem. Your therapist can help you answer any questions during your insight sessions. 


Managing symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 280 million people live with depression. When you are depressed, you may experience sadness and a low mood accompanied by fatigue, irritability, sleep difficulties, and appetite issues. 

There are underlying issues and factors that can contribute to and worsen depression. In a study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, researchers discovered that out of 247 patients diagnosed with depressive disorder, approximately 38% of the participants had impaired insight regarding awareness, symptoms, and treatment needs. 

This study revealed the need for therapists to develop a system of interventions with their clients to improve their insight. Understanding depression symptoms and the treatments available may help clients accept and understand their condition and reach out for professional support. 

Professional support options 

Insight psychotherapy is an intervention used by many licensed therapists to assist clients in understanding the deep-rooted sources of current mental health challenges. Even if you are not facing interpersonal relationship struggles, self-esteem issues, or depression, insight therapy may benefit you by helping you learn about your past and improve stress management in the present. Looking at the past can be done by anyone, regardless of mental health diagnoses or symptoms. 

Many people find it challenging to manage appointments, commutes, and the inconvenience of making time for in-person therapy. In these cases, online therapy can be a practical option that has been studied and proven as effective as in-person counseling, with unique benefits such as availability and cost-effectiveness. You can choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform. These therapists will help you achieve your therapy goals, understand your past experiences, and help you improve your quality of life.

If you're interested in finding a therapist specializing in insight therapy or another form of treatment, consider reaching out to a provider through a platform like BetterHelp. The platform offers over 30,000 licensed therapists and resources like journaling through the app, webinar options, and worksheets from your therapist. 


Insight therapy is a client-centered approach that can help people understand how their past relates to their current mental health challenges. It may provide the benefits of insight and bolstered self-esteem, which may help with a variety of mental health challenges, including eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. Insight-oriented therapy includes several therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), humanistic therapy, gestalt therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. 

If you’re experiencing challenges related to relationships or mental health, counseling may help you understand how your past influences your present. If you don’t currently have time for in-person therapy, insight therapy is also available through online therapy services. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience with insight therapy. Take the first step toward getting support, and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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