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What is a modality in therapy? Learn about some of the most common counseling treatment modalities and how they work in this introductory guide.

Therapy modalities, also called counseling modalities, comprise different categories of therapy. They are similar to physical therapy, which involves different techniques, such as heat, cold, ultrasound, or taping, to treat an injury. Psychological therapy modalities include different approaches to improving a patient’s overall well-being.

This mental health treatment modalities list includes some of the most common modalities and how they work.

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Common Therapy Modalities

  • CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on changing thinking patterns. For example, a therapist and client work together to identify thoughts that have a negative impact on the patient’s mental health and replace them with healthier alternatives.

This counseling modality works best with self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression, and other conditions that create or are based on patterns of negative thoughts.

  • EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR is a therapy modality mostly used for post-traumatic stress disorder. During a session, the patient recalls a traumatic event under the therapist’s guidance, while moving their eyes in a specific pattern. This can help the patient to reduce the stress associated with the event.

  • Art Therapy/Expressive Arts Therapy

Art therapy and other forms of expressive arts therapies use art techniques to help patients understand and process their thoughts and feelings. Patients do not need artistic training or artistic talent to benefit from this modality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of therapy modality will work for me?

You’ll gain the best results by working with a therapist you trust who uses a therapy modality you see as the best match for your needs.

What are good trauma therapy modalities?

Evidence-based therapy modalities for trauma include EMDR, art therapy, CBT, and behavior therapy. Animal-assisted therapy, mindfulness, and prolonged exposure can also be used.

The right counseling modality for any individual depends on their specific needs.

What is a therapy modality for OCD?

Exposure and response prevention therapy (either in a real-life situation or an imagined situation) and CBT are both evidence-based counseling modalities for OCD.

What are the main types of counseling modalities?

Most therapy modalities include the following:

  • Psychoanalytic
  • Psychodynamic (focused on the unconscious)
  • Behavioral (focused on learning new behavior)
  • Cognitive (focused on thought)
  • Humanistic (focused on achieving potential)
  • Integrative (combining elements of these modalities)

Featured Image: Vadym Petrochenko / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

 by Victoria Bartnikowski, LPTA defines a modality as: “Medicine/Medical- the application of a therapeutic agent, usually a physical therapeutic agent”. It is also expected that the use of a modality will produce some sort of physiologic response or change. So, it follows that treatments that we provide to patients for their musculoskeletal problems can be considered modalities. In this article, I will discuss the modalities we use here at OSC, and what their purpose served if treating patients in a Physical Therapy setting. This list is not inclusive of all modalities, but gives those most commonly used.

Electrical Stimulation – The use of an adjustable electric current to reduce muscle spasms by regulating and modulating contraction rhythm. This can help increase strength in a weak muscle and also help to increase blood flow to the area as the muscle contracts to improve healing. An excellent therapy after surgery or injury.

TENS – Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation – A small, battery operated device delivers a mild electric current, similar to electrical stimulation in the clinic, through electrodes applied to the skin. The patient feels a tingling sensation from the current which moderates discomfort by disrupting the pain signal sent to the brain. It is helpful for muscle spasms and chronic pain not helped with exercise or medication. This does not need a Physical Therapist to operate, is portable and can be adjusted by the patient anywhere.

Hot Packs – These are kept in a steamer and then wrapped in towels before being placed on the patient. The steam creates moisture, which along with the heat, penetrates tight and sore muscles, relaxing them and increasing blood flow to the area. They are especially helpful for arthritis, muscle spasms and strains.

Cold Packs – These are kept in a cold box and can be wrapped in either dry or wet towels before being applied to the patient. The cold reduces blood flow and inflammation thereby providing pain relief for the patient. The reduction in swelling is very beneficial for post-surgical patients and those with acute strains and sprains.

Ultrasound – Ultrasound is used to transmit sound waves into painful areas, relaxing and warming the tissues and causing increased blood flow. This treatment is great for muscle spasms and trigger points.

Traction – the use of a modulated force to pull the body lengthwise or longitudinally, to pull apart or distract spinal vertebrae to relieve pressure on compressed nerves, thereby reducing pain and inflammation. This can be done by placing the patient on a specially designed traction machine or it can be done manually. Traction can be used for both cervical and lumbar portions of the spine.

Low Level Laser Therapy – the use of red-beam light to detect impedances (resistance) found in tissue. This modality can be used in conjunction with electrical stimulation and can be used for both acute and chronic conditions, such as decreasing edema, pain control and reducing scar tissue.

Functional Dry Needling– performed by Physical Therapists, use of a monofilament needle to release myofascial trigger points or tight muscles, reducing pain and improving range of motion.

Modalities are therapeutic tools that we use to help our patients recover from surgery, injury or a condition that causes pain and dysfunction, so they can get back to the activities they enjoy.

Someone on the Chiropractic Assistants E-Mail List asked:

Is there a difference between the two terms (Modalities vs. Therapies)? Does it have to do with attended/non- attended? Do different insurance companies have different wording for them?

Susan McClelland answered:

Yes, there is a difference.

Modalities are defined as “Any physical agent applied to produce therapeutic changes to biologic tissues; includes but not limited to thermal, acoustic, light, mechanical, or electric energy.” They can be attended OR non-attended.

The definition of modalities was added to CPT 1995 to indicate the different types of service included in this section. To clarify the work performed by the provider, the section is divided into two parts; Supervised and Constant Attendance. Supervised modalities are defined as the application of a modality that does not require direct (one on one) patient contact by the provider. Constant Attendance is defined as the application of a modality that requires direct (one on one) patient contact by the provider.

Therapeutic Procedures are defined as “A manner of effecting changethrough the application of clinical skills and/or services thatattempt to improve function.” These require direct patient contact.

The definition of therapeutic procedures was added to CPT 1995 to clarify the differences between therapeutic procedures, modalities, and tests and measurements. These procedures require direct one on one patient contact by a physician or therapist.

Therapies is kind of general term used by many people to describeall physical medicine procedures — modalities, therapeuticprocedures, acupuncture, and sometimes, even CMT.

Most insurance companies will refer to the CPT terms described above.

Thanks to Susan McClelland for this contribution!


Treatment Modalities


Therapy (also referred to as “psychotherapy” or “counseling”) is a process through which a client meets with a therapist in a safe, confidential, and supportive environment.  Therapists should have at least a master’s degree in psychology or related field and be licensed by a state agency (e.g., Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services).

The purpose of therapy is for clients to:  explore beliefs, feelings, and behaviors; address challenging or distressing memories and experiences; obtain better self-awareness and understanding; and develop a plan to achieve desired changes. Individuals seek therapy for many reasons, such as to deal with depression or anxiety, for personal growth and greater self-knowledge, or to cope with major life challenges and traumatic events.

Therapy can help people to confront barriers which interfere with

emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

A client and therapist may work together for as few as 12 sessions or as long as several years, depending on the client’s unique needs and personal goals for therapy.

Treatment Modalities. The types of therapy offered are:

  • Individual Therapy. The client meets alone with the therapist.  Sessions are typically scheduled once per week for 60 minutes.  When the client is experiencing increased difficulty, sessions may be temporarily scheduled twice per week for a short period of time.  As the client makes progress in achieving his or her goals and nears discharge, sessions may become less frequent (e.g., once every two to four weeks).   Depending on the client’s preferences and needs, sessions can be also scheduled for 30 or 90 minutes.
  • Family Therapy. In this session, the therapist meets with one or more family members, friends, or significant others with or without the client present.  All clients who receive services at Behavioral Health Resources are encouraged to participate in at least one family therapy session.  During the initial meeting, the therapist will become acquainted with individuals involved in the client’s life and obtain feedback about the client’s strengths and areas for improvement.  With the client’s permission, the treatment plan objectives and progress will also be discussed.
  • Group Therapy. In this type of treatment modality, several clients meet for 60 to 90 minutes with a therapist.  The group can be structured as open discussion (any topic and also related to treatment plan objectives) or the group can be designed for a specific focus (e.g., addiction recovery, sexual trauma, etc.)  Working with others together in a group can decrease a client’s sense of isolation, validate his/her experiences, and help to develop better interpersonal and coping skills.  Group members can encourage each other by sharing their own experiences and provide hope for positive change and growth.
  • Group therapy is offered when there are at least 4 clients who are interested and available to meet on a consistent basis.

Sexual Trauma Therapy Group.   This group is for women who have Sexual Trauma therapy groupexperienced incest, rape, or other sexual trauma in their lives. The purpose of the group is to provide therapy and support for participants. The group is led by an experienced facilitator and co-facilitator. Everyone is invited to participate at the level that feels most comfortable to her. Only individuals who are current clients are eligible to participate. Contact Brenda Rohren at (402) 486-1101 if you are interested in receiving services.

  • Day and Time:   TBD  –  the group is not currently being offered
  • Facilitator: Brenda Rohren, M.A., MFS, LIMHP, LADC, MAC, BC-TMH
  • Cost:  $50


Licensed in Nebraska as a Substance Abuse Treatment Center *

March 20, 2015 to October 1, 2018 *

 *  Nebraska LB 1034 eliminated facility licenses for all outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

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