Different Types of Therapy

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There are more than fifty different types of psychotherapy (more commonly referred to as simply “therapy”) available. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to choose a type of therapy from what seems like an exhaustive list of options. We have listed the most common types of therapy so that you can be better informed in finding a therapist to suit your individual circumstances.

What is therapy?

Therapy, or talk therapy, is the process of using psychological techniques between a patient and a trained therapist for the purpose of improving the patient’s mental, emotional, and social well-being. It can be used for people recovering from grief, substance use disorders, divorce, cancer, coping with parenting, chronic illness, over-working, abuse, trauma, PTSD, relational difficulties, depression, accidents, and any other life-changing or challenging events or physical and mental issues.

Therapists undergo extensive training, often having a background in social work, psychiatry, mental health, or addiction treatment.

You can expect a therapist to adhere to a strict code of ethics — such as keeping sessions confidential, and looking out for your best interests. They will often be involved in continuing professional development. They will be regulated by their state or country. Therapists are not doctors, however. They cannot prescribe medication or offer medical advice — only doctors (including psychiatrists) can do this.

Typically, a patient meets with a therapist once per week, or once or twice a month, but this will depend on the issue you’re seeking help with. For more complex issues — like substance use disorder — patients may have daily therapy. It is entirely based on the individual’s circumstances and access to resources.

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What are the most common types of therapy?

Counseling. This type of therapy is typically to help an individual or a couple through a difficult time, such as a period of marital problems, grief, anger, or a career challenge. Commonly this therapy is for a short period of time.

Key points: short-term, helpful for relationships and short-term challenges.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based group of therapies used to treat several disorders — such as anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, mood problems, difficulty sleeping, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, disordered eating, and pain — over a short period of time. It can include rational emotive behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. Essentially, this type of therapy guides the patient toward altering their mindset in order to solve the problem they’re experiencing. It works on the understanding that how a person views the world determines their actions.

Key points: science-based, helpful with shifting mindsets and difficult behavioral patterns.

Mindfulness-based interventions. Grounded in mindfulness, or present-time awareness, these therapeutic approaches include mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy. This type of therapy is often offered in a group setting, such as a recovery meeting, and can help with depression, anxiety, pain, stress, substance use disorder, and personality disorders. Those using this type of therapy connect with their bodies, and through mindfulness-based practices they gain focus and awareness, and put some distance between themselves and the issue they’re dealing with. Mindfulness-based therapy has been shown to change negative thought patterns, increase empathy and compassion, improve self-awareness, reduce suffering, and manage difficult emotions.

Key points: used in a group setting, increases awareness and focus, reduces suffering.

Family therapy. The family is usually treated together rather than individually in this type of therapy, although individual sessions may occur depending upon the circumstances. Typically there are 8 to 20 sessions. This type of therapy is useful for families overcoming challenges like substance use disorder, grief, eating disorders, a child’s recovery from mental health, or other behavioral problems. The main purpose of family therapy is to improve communication and understanding and patterns that may lead to stress.

Key points: treats the whole family, identifies triggers, and improves how the family relates to one another.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). EMDR is an evidence-based therapy used to treat the symptoms of trauma and PTSD. This type of therapy follows a specific framework: getting to know the patient, preparing them, assessing the event, and using eye movements or sounds to help patients process and overcome traumatic events. After the desensitization, the therapist checks the patient’s relationship to the event and their beliefs, assesses any residual processing that needs to take place, and then closes the session. At the beginning of the next therapy session, the practitioner will re-evaluate the patient before taking next steps — which may involve further desensitization sessions. The duration of therapy depends on the extent of the trauma and the improvements made within each therapy session.

Key points: one-on-one therapy for people who have suffered trauma and/or PTSD. Duration depends on the individual.

Expressive arts therapy. Art therapy encompasses a number of approaches that may include writing, dance, movement, painting and drawing, and/or music. Patients are encouraged to use the arts to express and process traumatic events or any challenges in their life. It is a great alternative to talk therapy, as one can often access a part of themselves that they may not otherwise be able to. Patients are not required to have any artistic skills, but are encouraged to create without expectation or judgement. Art therapy can be used to treat ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic mental illness, traumatic brain injury, developmental disabilities, PTSD, and social challenges.

Key points: a great alternative to talk therapy, and can help people who struggle to relate to a therapist. Useful for developmental challenges and trauma.

Interpersonal therapy. This type of therapy is evidence-based and is commonly used for youth suffering with mental illnesses or problems in relationships with friends, family, and school. It can last 8 to 20 sessions, and its focus is on improving communication, life transitions, and how to identify and cope with emotions more effectively. Interpersonal therapy can be individual or in a group setting. It is commonly used to treat problematic substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and depression.

Key points: for youth, can be one-to-one or in a group setting, improves coping skills and relational skills.

These are  just a few of the main therapies that patients can access. Each individual can find the type of therapy that is right for them and advised by their doctor.

Other useful notes

In the treatment of substance use disorder and other trauma-related illness, it is important that any chosen therapy is trauma-informed, because the majority of those who seek treatment for substance use disorders have experienced trauma (50 percent of men and 75 percent of women). Therapy can be accessed locally, through a treatment center, through recovery communities, or through a medical professional.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to constitute medical advice, treatment, or diagnosis — it is purely informational. Please seek guidance from your medical team.



Olivia Pennelle