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What are the different types of psychotherapy

If you want help managing anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, but don’t know where to begin, you’re not alone. The world of psychotherapy can seem vast and confusing to those new to it. A wide range of therapeutic approaches exists, yet no single type is right for everyone.

To help you get familiar with the different therapeutic approaches, here’s a quick guide to four of the most widely-practiced forms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented therapy that focuseson the link between our thoughts (cognition) and our actions (behavior). It isintended to help people change thought patterns that cause unhealthy,unproductive, or incapacitating behavior.

Psychotherapistsoften use this approach with people suffering from anxiety, depression, stress,or phobias. It’s also popular among people seeking to overcome harmful habitsand addictions, such as smoking, overeating, or gambling.

DuringCBT sessions, you work with your therapist to learn how to recognize persistentnegative thoughts or beliefs and respond to them more productively. Forexample, if you have the habit of thinking: “I’m terrible at everything”whenever you make a mistake, CBT is designed to help you notice this thought,identify alternative thoughts (e.g., “Mistakes don’t make me terrible; theymake me human”), and choose a more realistic way to view the situation (e.g.,“Although I made this mistake, I do many things correctly and now I havelearned from this error”). It’s believed that making these positive shifts inyour thoughts will lead to a positive change in your behavior.

Note that CBT does have a homework component—follow upoccurs during sessions. 

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamictherapy emphasizes howcertain life events and relationships, both past and present, affect yourcurrent feelings, relationships, and choices. Its goal is to help youacknowledge and understand negative feelings and repressed emotions so you canresolve internal psychological conflicts, and improve life experiences,self-esteem, and relationships. This approach is a popular treatment for peoplewho are depressed.

A psychodynamictherapist will encourage you to speak openly about a range of issues to helpyou to uncover different memories, experiences, or dreams that helped shapeyour life. In particular, you will explore the reasons why you have takencertain adverse decisions or actions in the past to help you avoid makingsimilar unfavorable choices in the future. You can also use this newunderstanding of yourself to resolve current problematic situations and enhancerelationships.

Psychodynamic therapymay sometimes be an effective short-term therapy, but it often takes a year orlonger to obtain enduring benefits.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialecticalbehavior therapy (DBT)treatment is a form of cognitive behavior therapy. Its primary aim is to give people the skills toregulate their emotions, handle stress in a healthy manner, and improverelationships, and live mindfully. Originally developed to treat people withborderline personality disorder, DBT is now used to treat a variety of mentalconditions and is believed to be especially helpful for people with seeminglyuncontrollable, intense negative emotions or those who may incline towardself-harm.

DBT differs from CBT in that it teaches you that your experiences arereal and shows how to accept yourself, even with your unique challenges andlife experiences.  The treatment usuallyconsists of both one-on-one sessions with a psychotherapist and therapist-ledgroup sessions where the participants develop and practice skills and behaviorsneeded for a more manageable daily life. In both situations, DBT patients learnhow to label emotions, handle angry feelings and navigate conflict withoutgiving into impulsive tendencies, and develop awareness of their feelingsduring the present moment.

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Like CBT, DBTalso has a homework component. DBTis ideally done both in groups and in individually sessions simultaneously.People generally find this mixture quite helpful. 

Humanistic/Experiential Therapy

Unlike behavioral-based therapies, humanistic/experiential therapy focuses on aperson’s individual nature rather than the collection of behaviors that make upa specific psychological category. The therapy’s holistic approach emphasizesthe whole person, especially their positive behaviors and their ability togrow, heal and find self-actualization through self-exploration. People withdepression, anxiety and panic disorders, and low self-esteem often seek thisapproach.

Humanistic therapy consists of two popular techniques:Gestalt therapy and client-centered therapy. Gestalt therapy helps people tocenter on “here and now” feelings and experiences rather than their perceptionof the root causes of those feelings. Your therapist will help you explorefeelings and experiences through creative and experiential techniques, such asguided re-enactments, role-playing, exaggerated movement, and other exercises.The goal is to arouse emotions in different situations, allowing the personbeing treated to become aware of and understand those emotions as they happen.

Client-or person-centered therapy centers on the idea that people are capable of deciding for themselves the psychological areas they want to explore and know best how to go about it. Known as a “non-directive” form of therapy, the therapist does not guide the client toward any particular direction or outcome but creates a supportive environment for clients as they investigate their identity, feelings, experiences or emotions. You can expect your therapist to listen to your point of view with empathy, warmth, respect, and non-judgment, and to encourage your growth and self-realization.

The therapists at Manhattan Mental Health Counseling are caring, compassionate and well-trained in a variety of therapeutic skills and modalities. We are in-network with the following insurance plans: Aetna, Cigna, United and Healthfirst. Our therapists specialize in anxiety, depression, anger management, grief, trauma, life transitions, family issues, couple’s counseling, OCD, career counseling, women psychological issues including post-natal depression, addictions among others. We provide online therapy from the comfort of your own home.

Take a look at our Meet the Team page to see if you feel drawn to any one of our therapists.

Types of Psychotherapy

There are several approaches that mental health professionals can take to provide therapy. After talking with you about your disorder, your therapist will decide which approach to use.

Different approaches to therapy include:

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is based on the assumption that you are having emotional problems because of unresolved, generally unconscious conflicts, often stemming from childhood. The goal of this type of therapy is for you to understand and better manage these feelings by talking about the experiences. Psychodynamic therapy is done over a period of at least several months, although it can last longer, even years.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy focuses on the behaviors and interactions you have with family and friends. The goal of this therapy is to improve your communication skills and increase self-esteem during a short period of time. It usually lasts 3 to 4 months and works well for depression caused by mourning, relationship conflicts, major life events, and social isolation.

Psychodynamic and interpersonal therapies help you resolve mental illness caused by:

  • Loss or grief
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Role transitions such as becoming a parent or a caregiver

A psychotherapist has specialized training in treating mental disorders. They use talk therapy to help people find better ways to cope with emotional issues and overcome unhealthy behaviors or thinking patterns.

Psychotherapists can be psychiatrists or psychologists. A psychiatrist offers therapy, but they are also trained medical doctors who can prescribe medications to treat mental disorders. On the other hand, a psychologist focuses solely on psychotherapy and behavioral interventions.

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There’s no consensus on how to group psychotherapists by type, but it may be helpful to think about them as divided into several camps when you’re trying to decide what type you need.

Types of Psychotherapy

Different Types of Psychotherapy

Verywell / Danie Drankwalter

There are five types of psychotherapy, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT operates under three basic principles that address the way a person thinks, their patterns of behavior, and how they cope with trauma or psychological problems. For many, unhelpful thinking, behavior, and coping patterns lead to psychological distress, and CBT aims to help patients learn to change their own problematic behaviors, thoughts, and coping mechanisms.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT teaches patients how to accept that their behaviors and experiences are valid and how to change their behaviors to move forward in a positive way. It is designed to rewire the patient’s mind when it comes to coping and reacting to stressful situations or psychological distress.
  • Humanistic therapy: There are three types of humanistic therapy: client-centered, gestalt, and existential therapies. Client-centered therapy revolves around the rejection of the idea that therapists are the experts of their patients’ minds. It emphasizes care, interest, and concern in a way that allows people to make their own choices. Gestalt therapy encourages patients to accept that they are responsible for themselves, and it pushes the awareness of being in the moment. Existential therapy focuses heavily on self-determination and free will, as well as the search for meaning in a patient’s life. All three focus on the patient and emphasize their ability to help themselves.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how people’s past experiences affect their current behavior. It is designed to force patients to look inward and gain self-awareness around their behavioral patterns. In this type of therapy, patients examine past relationships and how they guide their current behaviors.
  • Holistic therapy: Holistic therapy utilizes more than one type of therapy. Psychotherapists who practice holistic therapy take a well-rounded approach by blending different elements of the approaches so that they can personalize treatments to a patient’s needs.

Psychotherapy can be helpful for treating many mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, phobias, and personality disorders.

Types of Degrees

There are a number of degrees that psychotherapists can earn, including:

  • Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW): Getting a master’s degree in social work and passing a state licensing exam are typically required to become a licensed clinical social worker. Social workers work with all types of patients, but many specialize in one area, such as adults or children. They also help their clients find other resources in their community.
  • Licensed professional counselor (LPC) or a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC): These psychotherapists hold master’s degrees in counseling or psychology, and they must pass a state licensing exam. They utilize psychotherapy and individual interventions to help patients. 
  • Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT): These types of psychotherapists focus on treating mental health disorders as they relate to a person’s family and relationships. LMFTs must obtain a master’s degree and two years of clinical experience. They must also pass a state licensing exam. 
  • Doctor of psychology (PsyD; psychologist): Psychotherapists with a doctoral degree in psychology are trained heavily in the scientific study of psychology but use their training in their practice. To be accepted into a PsyD program, students must first get a bachelor’s degree and most likely a master’s degree. The program lasts four to six years. They will also have to be licensed by the state.
  • Doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD in psychology; psychologist): A PhD in psychology focuses on the scientific research of psychotherapy. Those with this degree tend to go on to research or teaching careers. The program lasts roughly five to eight years after getting a master’s or bachelor’s degree and requires state licensing with an option for certification.  
  • Psychiatrist (MD): Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness. To become a psychiatrist, a person must attend medical school and complete a residency program.
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Although there are many types of psychotherapies available, psychotherapists often specialize in specific mental disorders, such as eating disorders or addiction. It’s also possible to find psychotherapists who treat people who have experienced similar life events, such as a psychotherapist who works only with members of the LGBTQ community.

How to Choose

Specific questions you should ask yourself that can help narrow down your search for a psychotherapist include:

  • What type of credentials are important to you: If you’re looking for a psychotherapist who can prescribe medications, you will want to go with a psychiatrist. If you’re looking for help with community advocacy, then a licensed clinical social worker or licensed professional counselor may be best for you.
  • What type of therapy do you need: If you require therapy based on the specific type of mental disorder that you have, it would be best to find someone who specializes in that area.
  • What type of person would work best with you: You may also want to consider your psychotherapist’s gender, religion, or age. For example, if you’re a young woman who has experienced trauma, talking to a woman may make you feel more at ease.
  • What type of therapy do you think will work best for you: The approach to therapy is also a vital factor to consider. For example, if you’re looking to overcome a phobia, behavioral therapy may be best. If you’re trying to change unhealthy behaviors, you may want psychodynamic therapy.

Questions to ask

Before meeting your psychotherapist, you may want to ask some general questions to see if they will be a good fit, such as:

  • Are you licensed?
  • What is your level of training?
  • What treatment approach do you use?
  • How many patients have you treated with my specific issue?
  • What is your specialty?
  • How much does each session cost?
  • Can you provide a prescription if needed?

These questions will help narrow down your search. Getting the right therapist is key to ensuring that the treatment you receive is the type that will work for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do psychotherapists cost?

The cost of psychotherapists varies depending on your geographic location. Generally, a licensed clinical social worker or a mental health counselor would cost less than a psychologist, and a psychologist would cost less than a psychiatrist.

Which form of psychotherapy has had especially good results in treating phobias and compulsions?

The best type of therapy for phobias and compulsions is behavioral therapy. In the case of phobias, which are irrational fears of or aversions to specific objects or situations, desensitization therapy will work. Desensitization therapy exposes people to their phobia until they are no longer scared.

In the case of compulsions, which are repetitive rule-bound behaviors, operant conditioning may be used to help reward a person for avoiding their compulsion. Cognitive therapy is another choice for help with compulsions as it works by addressing the thoughts of the compulsion as opposed to the action itself.

Who invented psychotherapy?

Psychoanalysis was first introduced in the 1800s by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. However, evidence suggests that it has been around for a lot longer. The ancient Greeks were the first to recognize mental illness and attempt to treat it in various ways. 


Psychotherapists can specialize in specific types of patients and practice different forms of therapy. When looking for a psychotherapist, consider finding one who focuses on the type of therapy that benefits your mental health needs.