Updated: Sep 8
If you’re thinking of trying therapy, you might’ve already noticed the surprising amount of types available. Though some approaches work best for specific conditions, others can help with a range of issues.
In therapy, you’ll work with a trained mental health professional. What you’ll do in each appointment depends on the preferred methods of your therapist and the issues you’re looking to address.
You can expect to spend some time discussing how challenging situations, emotions, and behaviors affect your life. This will likely involve working through some negative events or distressing thoughts. It may be difficult in the moment, but the end result is usually a happier, more fulfilling life.
Here’s a look at some common types of therapy and how to choose which one is best for you.
Types of Therapy
Psychodynamic therapy developed from psychoanalysis, a long-term approach to mental health treatment. In psychoanalysis, you can expect to talk about anything on your mind to uncover patterns in thoughts or behavior that might be contributing to distress. It’s also common to talk about your childhood and past, along with recurring dreams or fantasies you might have.
How it works
In psychodynamic therapy, you’ll work with a therapist to explore the connection between your unconscious mind and your actions. This involves examining your emotions, relationships, and thought patterns.
Psychodynamic therapy can be a longer-term approach to mental health treatment, compared to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other types of therapy. Traditional psychoanalysis is an intensive form of treatment that people can go to for years.
Research suggests many people continue to improve, even after they complete psychodynamic therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term approach to mental health treatment. It’s similar to behavioral therapy, but it also addresses unhelpful thought patterns or problematic thoughts.
The idea behind CBT is that certain feelings or beliefs you have about yourself or situations in your life can lead to distress.
This distress may contribute to mental health issues, occur alongside them, or develop as a complication of other mental health issues.
How it works
In CBT sessions, you’ll work on identifying patterns and learning more about how they might negatively affect you.
With your therapist’s guidance, you’ll explore ways to replace negative thought patterns or behaviors with ones that are more helpful and accurate.
Like behavioral therapy, CBT doesn’t spend much time addressing past events. Instead, it focuses on addressing existing symptoms and making changes.
CBT often involves homework or practice outside the therapy session.
For example, you might keep track of negative thoughts or things that trouble you between sessions in a journal. This practice helps to reinforce what you learn in therapy and apply your new skills to everyday situations.
There are also some subtypes of CBT, such as:
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT uses CBT skills, but it prioritizes acceptance and emotional regulation. You can expect to work on developing skills to cope with distressing or challenging situations. You may also learn how to accept and deal with difficult emotions when they arise.
Rational emotive therapy. This approach helps you learn how to challenge irrational beliefs that contribute to emotional distress or other issues. The idea behind rational emotive therapy is that replacing irrational thoughts with more rational ones can improve your well-being.
Behavioral therapy is a focused, action-oriented approach to mental health treatment.
According to behavioral theory, certain behaviors develop from things you learned in your past. Some of these behaviors might affect your life negatively or cause distress.
Behavioral therapy can help you change your behavioral responses.
How it works
In behavioral therapy, you won’t spend much time talking about unconscious reasons for your behavior or working through emotional difficulties.
Instead, you’ll focus on ways to change behavioral reactions and patterns that cause distress.
There are many subtypes of behavioral therapy, including:
Systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization combines relaxation exercises with gradual exposure to something you fear. This can help you slowly get used to replacing feelings of fear and anxiety with a relaxation response.
Aversion therapy. In aversion therapy, you learn to associate the behavior you want to change with something that’s uncomfortable or unpleasant in some way. This association may help you stop the behavior.
Flooding. This is similar to systematic desensitization, but it involves facing your fears directly from the start, rather than gradually. If you have a phobia of dogs, for example, the first exposure step might be sitting in a room of friendly, playful dogs. With systematic desensitization, on the other hand, your first exposure step might be looking at pictures of dogs.
Source: A Guide to Different Types of Therapy