Different Kinds of Therapy

While you’re looking for a therapist and starting to navigate the mental health world, you’re bound to run into a lot of terms for the different types of therapy available to you. Although we often talk about therapy as though it always looks the same way, there are actually many types. This will factor into your decision about which therapist to see, since different mental health care providers use different treatment methods and modalities with their patients.

If you’re starting from square one, you might not have a firm idea of what kind of therapy you need or want. The terms you see in a lot of provider bios and on their websites might not make much sense to you. The most important thing is to not get overwhelmed.

To help you get started understanding potential therapists’ bios, we’ll explain some key terms and therapy methods.

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy

This category of therapy focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by delving into their unconscious meanings and motivations. It’s common to discuss your past, childhood experiences, dreams, or recurring thought processes.

In this type of therapeutic setting, the partnership between the therapist and patient is crucial. Patients learn about themselves by discussing their actions and thought processes with their therapist. This provides an opportunity for you to talk about anything on your mind as you discover patterns in your thoughts or behavior that may be getting in the way of your happiness

This type of therapy is often used to treat conditions like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Somatic symptoms
  • Substance use disorder

Behavioral Therapy

This action-oriented category of therapy focuses on how people learn behaviors. People develop behaviors from things they’ve learned in their past. Some learned behaviors might affect your life negatively or cause distress. During behavioral therapy, you can learn new patterns to help you build a happier, healthier life. 

You won’t spend much time in sessions talking about the unconscious reasons for your behavior or working through emotional difficulties. Instead, you’ll focus on ways to change your behavioral patterns.

Behavioral therapy is often used to treat conditions like:

  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Substance use disorder
  • ADHD
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Oppositional and defiant behaviors
  • Behavioral issues due to communication difficulties or emotional struggles

Cognitive Therapy

This category of therapy focuses on what people think, rather than their actual behaviors. Cognitive therapists believe dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. They help their patients change their feelings and actions by changing their thoughts.

Humanistic Therapy

This category of therapy focuses on people’s capacity to make rational choices to achieve their maximum potential. This includes the beliefs that the patient is the best person to understand their own experiences and needs, that concern and respect for others are crucial, and that one’s worldview affects the choices they make in life.

The goal of humanistic therapy techniques is to help you better understand your experiences and get guidance and support without the therapist interpreting your feelings for you.

This category of therapy is often used to treat:

  • Self-esteem issues
  • Maladaptive coping skills, especially with chronic health concerns
  • After-effects of trauma
  • Depression
  • Relationship issues
  • Substance use disorder
  • Feelings of worthlessness or feeling lost/aimless in life

Integrative or Holistic Therapy

Integrative therapists blend different approaches and techniques to tailor treatment to each patient’s needs. (These days, most therapists blend several schools of thought, but may favor specific ones.)

Client-Centered Therapy

The client is seen and treated as the expert on their personal experience. Therapists work together with their patients by emphasizing their concerns, care, and interests. This contrasts with the idea that therapists are the authorities on their clients’ inner experiences.

Culturally Sensitive Therapy

This viewpoint emphasizes the therapist’s understanding of their client’s background, ethnicity, and belief system. This ideal can be applied to any kind of therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is a short-term approach to mental health treatment. It’s similar to behavioral therapy but differs in that it also addresses unhelpful thought patterns or problematic thoughts. The worldview behind CBT is that certain feelings or beliefs you have about yourself or certain situations can cause you distress. 

During CBT, you’ll identify patterns in your thoughts and actions and learn about how they might be negatively affecting you. Guided by your therapist, you’ll explore ways to replace negative thought patterns or behaviors with ones more helpful and more grounded in reality. This often includes homework or practice outside the therapy session.

CBT is often used to treat:

  • Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • OCD
  • Insomnia
  • Some symptoms of schizophrenia

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

TF-CBT addresses the specific emotional and mental health needs of clients struggling to overcome trauma’s destructive effects. This is often effective for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or mood disorders developed in response to abuse, violence, or grief. It’s also often used with children.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

This form of therapy uses CBT skills, but prioritizes acceptance and emotional regulation.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

This unique form of psychotherapy is designed to treat trauma by diminishing the negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic events. It focuses less on the traumatic event itself (which makes it unique among talk therapy methods) and focuses more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms resulting from the event. It involves the therapist using techniques to guide the patient’s eye movements from side to side while participating in guided therapy.

EMDR is often used to treat:

  • Trauma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias

Attachment-Based Therapy

This brief, process-oriented form of psychological counseling involves a client-therapist relationship based on developing or rebuilding trust and expressing emotions. It also examines the connection between a client’s early attachment experiences with their primary caregivers, usually with their parental figures.

Attachment-based therapy is often effective for:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Adoptees
  • Children in foster care
  • Victims of trauma
  • Children with depressed caretakers
  • Children who have experienced trauma at the hands of their caretakers


Coaching focuses on the positive parts of life and increasing the client’s happiness. It is specific and goal-oriented, whereas other forms of therapy can be more expansive and all-encompassing.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

This short-term form of therapy deals with adult relationships and attachment/bonding. It looks at patterns in a relationship, aiming to create a more secure bond and develop trust to move relationships in a more positive direction. It can be effective for couples or families in distress.

Strength-Based Therapy

This form of positive counseling and psychotherapy focuses more on the client’s inner strengths and resourcefulness and less on weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings. The goal is to change your worldview to be more positive by building on your best qualities, finding your strengths, and drawing on your resilience.

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

SFBT stems from the idea that each patient knows what they need to do to improve their lives and that they can find their own solutions with appropriate coaching and guidance. This therapy focuses on finding solutions in the present time and exploring hope for the future to find faster solutions to problems. Goal-setting is an important part of this.

Play Therapy

Play therapy is usually used with children, but it can be used for adults as well. It’s normally used to help children ages 3-12 explore their lives and freely express their thoughts and emotions in a safe setting through play.

Motivational Interviewing

This practical, empathetic, and short-term therapy technique helps people resolve their ambivalent feelings and insecurities, finding the internal motivation to change their behaviors and improve their life.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

This modified form of cognitive therapy incorporates mindfulness practices like meditation and breathing exercises into the session. This can help fight off depression or negative thought spirals before they take hold.

Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT)

MFT addresses the behaviors of all family members and the way those behaviors affect the relationships between individual family members and the dynamic of the family unit. MFT can also be referred to as couple and family therapy, couples counseling, marriage counseling, or family counseling.

How to Know What's Best for You

This is just one factor to consider when choosing a therapist, so don’t get too caught up on technical terms if you’re just starting therapy.

One way to set yourself up for success is to choose a therapist trained in several different types of therapy. Lots of therapists use a multidimensional approach to therapy. 

After meeting with your new therapist and describing what you want to discuss during your sessions, the therapist can recommend a treatment plan that uses the best techniques for your situation. 

Over time, you’ll gain familiarity with how you respond to different therapy techniques. You’ll be able to offer your therapist feedback on what works best for you. This will make it easier for your therapist to offer treatment plans that are most effective for you. Remember, therapy should be a two-way conversation between you and your therapist. You should always feel empowered to speak up about your preferences and what is and isn’t working for you.

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