What are the four main types of psychotherapy

Deborah C. Escalante

What are the four main types of psychotherapy?

The four main types of psychotherapy work in different ways.

The four main types of psychotherapy work in different ways.

There are various approaches to psychotherapy. Which type of therapy will work best may vary from person to person. Therapists often use more than one type of psychotherapy approach in helping their clients. The four most common types of psychotherapy are as follows

1. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies: This psychotherapeutic approach is dedicated to changing the problematic behaviors, feelings and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. This approach works in close partnership between the patient and doctor. Psychodynamic therapy analyzes the impact of life events (such as marriage, birth and death of a loved one), desires and past and current relationships on the person’s feelings and choices they make because of them. It involves the affected person and doctor working together to identify compromises the person made to defend themselves against painful thoughts or emotions. These compromises might have been made knowingly or unknowingly by the person. For example, a failed relationship may make a person believe that all relationships will be painful. They may seclude themselves because of such beliefs and keep struggling with this fear of being cheated on or hurt. Psychodynamic therapy helps discover such links and makes the person know themselves better. This will help the person overcome their fears and do better in life. An American neurologist, Sigmund Freud, developed the process of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is focused on uncovering the unconscious roots of a person’s symptoms and helps them apply this understanding to their life. Psychoanalysis may be short term or long term. It may focus broadly or more narrowly on a particular issue or symptom a person is having. The therapy also focuses on the person’s interaction with the people around them. It enables a person to better understand their needs in a relationship, healthy and unhealthy ways of meeting those needs and what they can do to improve their ability to express or communicate. This can help people manage life events such as the loss of a loved one or a relationship and disturbances within their relationships. They also become better equipped to meet the demands of shifting roles such as retirement or caring for a parent or a newborn.

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2. Behavioral therapy: This psychotherapeutic approach is based on the principle that all types of behaviors are learned and unhealthy or harmful behaviors can be changed. It focuses on exploring the reasons behind the development of both normal and abnormal behaviors in a person. A classic example of behavioral therapy is Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiment where he found that the dogs began drooling when they heard their dinner bell because they associated the sound of the bell with food. Behavioral therapy has several approaches including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This focuses on changing the thoughts and beliefs that are causing problems with the person’s mood and actions. 
  • Aversion therapy: This therapy involves teaching the person to associate a desirable but unhealthy stimulus with an extremely unpleasant stimulus. For example, the person may associate alcohol or drug use with an unpleasant memory.
  • Systematic desensitization: This helps people overcome phobias through various relaxation techniques.

3. Cognitive therapy (CT): This was developed by an American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. It is focused on cognition (what a person thinks) rather than actions (what they do). It is based on the principle that harmful or dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. It focuses on changing the person to change the way they feel and what they do.

4. Humanistic therapy: This type of therapy is focused on valuing a person’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. It emphasizes the idea of respect and concern for others. Humanistic therapy is often “client-centered,” which means it devalues the idea of therapists as authorities of their clients’ inner experiences. It is like a partnership where therapists help their clients change by emphasizing their concern, care and interest.

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.

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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.

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