Therapy FAQ

What Are the Different Types of Therapy?

There are many different types of therapy, and most mental health professionals are trained in several. Taking a broad look at the different forms of therapy can give you an idea of the type of therapy you may need, and the expertise and experience to look for in a potential therapist.

By Alan Deibel, LCPC

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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Thankfully, stigmas surrounding mental health continue to fade. But for many, there’s still an air of mystery around therapeutic techniques and what exactly happens in the therapist’s office. 

There are many different types of therapy, and most mental health professionals are trained in several. Depending on the reasons behind seeking therapy, you may want to look for someone who specializes in one kind of therapy over another. 

A broad look at the different forms of therapy can give you an idea of the type of therapy you may need, and the expertise and experience to look for in a potential therapist. Keep in mind that the line between some types of therapy is faint. Many approaches overlap with similar theories at their core but differ in how they approach treatment. 

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapies

These two similar-sounding therapies trace their roots to a similar source, but differ in timetable and methods. The most famous, and one of the founding practitioners of psychoanalysis, was Sigmund Freud. He delved into the influence of subconscious thoughts and repressed feelings. 

Though psychoanalysis has evolved, its method still involves exploring dreams, fantasies, and past traumas to help the person talk through issues they face in the present.

Psychoanalysis is both a theory for understanding people and their behavior and a method of treatment. The process depends on a close relationship between the therapist and patient, so psychoanalysis tends to be a long-term form of therapy that can last several years. 

The process involves patients talking freely with the therapist who searches for and analyzes unconscious motivations and potential meanings. Childhood relationships and experiences are an important part of this therapy practice. 

The therapist makes connections from childhood and the past to current behaviors, thought patterns, and fears that the patient might want to change. Psychoanalysis may require multiple sessions per week and should only be practiced by a certified psychoanalyst.  

Psychodynamic therapy uses psychoanalytic theory as a foundation for understanding the mind. However, it’s designed for shorter-term treatment that lasts a few months versus the years that psychoanalysis may take. 

This method connects current thought patterns and past experiences. Then the therapist helps you explore how you can develop self-awareness to gain control over thoughts and actions. Psychodynamic therapy focuses more on problem-solving, whereas psychoanalysis is built on understanding one’s self. These types of therapy are often used to treat:

However, psychoanalytic theory can be used as a basis to treat many more disorders and conditions when used by a practiced therapist.

Behavior Therapies

Behavior therapy includes a wide range of therapy types, all used to identify and help change unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors. Common therapies that fall under this umbrella include:

These types of therapy have a common focus — to change or modify behavior. Each type of behavior therapy takes a slightly different approach, though many are closely connected, and therapists may shift in and out of different types of behavior therapy in a single session. 

For example, during psychotherapy, the therapist may use CBT, while also designing an exposure therapy plan to treat anxiety. CBT explores unhealthy thought patterns and how they contribute to self-destructive beliefs and behaviors. The therapist then works with the person to change these thought patterns. 

Exposure therapy involves confronting triggers. It’s used to improve well-being in mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety. Therapists may use methods like flooding or desensitization to help the person learn to cope with triggers. 

Some types of behavior therapy, like interpersonal therapy, are used to improve the patient’s relationships with other people. The therapist and patient may focus on negative thought patterns and social behaviors to help the person develop new patterns of interaction. 

Other types of behavior therapy were developed for specific mental illnesses, like DBT, which was originally designed to treat people with chronic and suicidal thoughts and borderline personality disorder. However, DBT has now been adapted to treat a variety of mental illnesses.

REBT, another type of behavior therapy, works to recognize irrational beliefs that lead to unwanted behaviors. REBT challenges those irrational beliefs to develop more rational ways of thinking. 

EMDR is a relatively newer form of behavior therapy developed in 1989 to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s now been adapted to treat other mental health disorders caused by trauma. This method involves recalling traumatic memories while the therapist directs the patient’s eye movements. However, the therapist also works with the patient beforehand to understand and target the appropriate feelings, life experiences, and beliefs to target during EMDR.

Behavior therapy involves a lot of talk therapy, a term for talking with your therapist, to recognize your thought patterns and how those patterns affect your behavior. Different methods challenge and change thought patterns in different ways, but many types of behavior therapy are successful in treating conditions like:

It’s worth noting this list isn’t exhaustive. Many types of behavior therapy can be adapted to treat other types of mental health disorders.

Humanistic Therapies

Humanistic therapy takes an approach of growth and acceptance with the underlying assumption that people are fundamentally good. It relies on the belief that every person has the potential to create healthy relationships. 

Therapists help explore assumptions and attitudes to identify those that cause harm, and encourage acceptance and growth. Some refer to this process as “freeing” the person from thought and behavior patterns that keep them from living a full, happy life. This type of therapy assumes that the bulk of the therapeutic work and change will occur outside of therapy sessions. 

Existential therapy falls into the humanistic category. It targets responsibility and freedom from thoughts and behaviors that prevent the person from having the relationships and life they want. The therapist helps create a philosophical basis drawn from historical philosophers, followed by the client then drawing on that basis to make decisions and change behavior.

Client-centered or person-centered therapy is another popular form of humanistic therapy. It began in the 1940s and follows the assumption that each individual has the capacity to be the expert on their own experiences. It’s an approach that emphasizes the whole person, and that each individual is more than their collective symptoms. This method factors in personality and motivations on the road to improving well being.

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a method often used during person-centered therapy. It was originally designed to treat substance abuse, but it’s now used for a variety of mental health disorders. Therapists often use MI before beginning other treatment methods as part of a patient assessment to explore motivations and beliefs. Through the interview method, the therapist may identify behaviors, feelings, thoughts, and motivations that may stand in the way of successful treatment and work with the patient to overcome them.  

Humanistic therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders and problematic behaviors, including but not limited to:

Integrative/Holistic Therapies

Therapists who practice integrative or holistic therapy don’t necessarily adopt one type of therapy. Instead, they study and use several theories and approaches in their practice, deciding on which ones to use based on each patient’s needs. 

Integrative therapy may be considered more of a movement, rather than just a type of therapy. Therapists with this approach often consider the person’s physical, emotional, and mental health. 

Much like therapists who use different types of behavioral therapies, a therapist who subscribes to integrative therapy may use different therapies throughout various stages of the process. They may discuss the various methods and techniques available to the patient to determine a course of therapy together, rather than the therapist deciding alone.

Someone who practices integrative therapy may also be more likely to use complementary treatments and approaches. They may teach relaxation and breathing techniques, mindfulness, or play relaxing music during sessions. 

This is a versatile approach to therapy that can be used to treat almost any condition because it draws upon many different techniques and approaches. But the key to this approach is using professional judgment and experience to create an evidence-based treatment plan. 

There’s no certification in integrative therapy since it’s more of an approach than a well-defined practice. Many therapists already mix and match therapies to their patient’s needs, even though they might not advertise themselves as using integrative therapy. 

The versatility of this approach can be used to treat almost any mental health disorder, but it’s often used for:

How to Pick a Therapy (and Therapist) That’s Right for You

So, there are many types of therapies available–but how do you choose which will be best for you? Some people want to develop a long-term relationship with a therapist, with the need to understand how their childhood affects their current behavior. In this case, psychoanalysis might be a good fit. Others may want to work through behaviors systematically, with practical exercises and applications that might best come from a type of behavior therapy. 

Every person is different, as are their responses to individual therapy. Try to keep an open mind so you can find a therapist and a therapy type that’s right for you. Also, keep in mind that certain types of therapy are more commonly used for specific disorders. For example, exposure therapy is more common for OCD and anxiety than for personality disorders. 

Therapists typically list their certifications and therapeutic approaches, but those are usually accompanied by expertise or experience in certain areas, methods, or mental illnesses. You want a therapist that works either with your condition, demographic, or who has experience in an area you need treatment. 

For example, a therapist may specialize in substance addiction, eating disorders, or anxiety and depression. If that’s their expertise, they probably aren’t the right pick for someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Therapists may have certifications or years of experience working with a certain demographic, like teenagers with anxiety, couples therapy, or group therapy. Look for professional certifications and training along with experience that aligns with your needs. 

Takeaway

It’s a good idea to enter your first therapy session with a general understanding of the methods that might be used. A little knowledge can set you at ease as you begin the therapy process. However, keep in mind that the quality of your therapeutic alliance with your therapist is more predictive of good therapeutic outcomes than the theoretical approach or interventions used. 

If getting started feels like the hardest part, Grow Therapy can help you get the personalized mental health care you need. Therapy can be an enlightening and liberating experience. It takes work and dedication, but with the right therapist, you can create the relationships and life you want. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Alan Deibel, LCPC

Alan Deibel is a licensed clinical professional counselor with over 12 years of diverse clinical experience specializing in treating addiction, trauma, anxiety, and mood disorders.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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