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Understanding Different Types of Therapy

Updated: Mar 9

Understanding Different Types of Therapy

There are various type of therapy and counseling - find the one right for you

Therapy might sound unfamiliar or it could be questionable if it's right for you. So let's understand what it actually is and what type of therapy is right for you. Learning more about these options can help you make a sound decision about the type of counseling you receive and how to find the right therapy options for your unique situation.

Let's understanding the different types of therapy and right is right for you.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, uses research-backed talking techniques, worksheets, guided exercises, and other forms of support to improve or strengthen an individual's mental, emotional, and social well-being.

Many psychotherapy treatments are done one-on-one between an individual and a psychotherapist. You may refer to articles online to learn what individual therapy is. and how it works. Still, therapy can also happen in a couple, group, or family setting, depending on the client's needs. 

Psychotherapists are mental health professionals, like psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers. They can also be counselors with a psychology or social work degree, and often work with their patients to treat cognitive or behavior concerns or conditions such as eating disorders, bipolar disorder, or anxiety conditions. Psychotherapy provides mental health support, and therapists cannot prescribe medications. Psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, can prescribe medication, perform medical and diagnostic testing, and offer counseling. 

Therapy is often recommended as a first-line treatment for various mental illnesses and emotional challenges, and it may be used in conjunction with prescribed medication. Consult your primary healthcare provider before stopping, starting, or changing medication.

What are the various therapy forms available? 

Below are a few of the many types of psychotherapy that clients can partake in. 

Individual Therapy Sessions

The primary goal of individual therapy is to increase understanding of one's thoughts and behavior patterns to help increase function and well-being. In therapy, people can learn how to effectively manage stress, interpersonal difficulties, and troubling situations. Counseling allows individuals to explore their feelings, beliefs, and behaviors, work through challenging or influential memories, identify aspects of their lives that they would like to change, better understand themselves and others, set personal goals, and work toward desired change.

Individual counseling for adults regularly aids and guides people who may be losing focus on the things that matter most in life. In many cases, this focus is regained by working with a therapist who can listen to them, provide great professional advice, and then suggest solutions that may be of value. By having these tools in their arsenal, the patient can then implement what they have learned from their good therapy sessions, regain focus, become more self-aware, and ultimately improve the quality of their lives through all of the positive effects of getting psychotherapy. Even short-term therapy can make a difference in this regard and people can still potentially experience meaningful personal growth rather quickly, sometimes in as little as a few weeks.


What are the advantages of individual counseling for adults?


Through individual counseling, patients can improve skills related to respect, confidence, and empathy. 


  • Coping Skill Development: Individuals grappling with mental health disorders find themselves challenged by their symptoms, which can sometimes result in the emergence of unhealthy behaviors. The decision to fully engage in counseling lies with the individual. When this commitment is made, a multitude of advantages can unfold.

  • Improving Self-Awareness - Counseling in this manner helps to address thought patterns and feelings that may precede the onset of negative behaviors. For example, some people may learn to become mindful of what they think and how they respond to stress and challenging circumstances. By recognizing what’s happening at that moment, a person can change negative thoughts to avoid poor behaviors that lead to addiction.


  • Improved Communication Skills - It’s essential to express feelings and needs in a meaningful manner. During individual counseling, a person learns how to do this in a more impactful way. Through individual therapy, patients can improve skills related to respect, confidence, and empathy.


  • Coping Skill Development - Often, those who have mental health disorders struggle with their symptoms. This often leads to the development of poor behaviors. For example, a person may struggle with anxiety and turn to drugs to help calm them. Instead, this type of counseling teaches healthy coping skills like self-soothing and acceptance.


  • Self-Observation - Another way to use this counseling method is as a method of exploring personal beliefs, goals, and values. It is essential to define what makes a person unique in their own manner. By better understanding oneself, a person can explore new opportunities while also having more confidence.


  • Wider range of perspective - Often, addiction and mental health lead a person to have a tarnished or inaccurate view of the world around them, of themselves, and their future. During counseling, it’s possible to get back to a new place with a fresh perspective. This can help to overcome challenges related to depression, substance use, and relationships.


Counseling is among the most common types of therapy and is frequently used by individuals to discuss life challenges and emotional distress. It may focus less on medical problems in the therapy psychodynamic and more on receiving support to meet personal goals.

It can help an individual grapple with anger management issues or help a couple resolve relationship concerns. Counseling can also help someone consider their career options. 

Counseling sessions range from 30 minutes to an hour in length, and the client can decide how often they want to attend, whether once a month, once a week, or any other frequency. Wellness professionals sometimes fall under the category of counselors depending on their level of schooling and their end goals with their clients. 

Mindfulness-based therapy

Used to treat depression, stress, substance use challenges, anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem, mindfulness-based therapy helps individuals accept and focus on their emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them.

It encourages moving forward from the past and growing through future worries by developing an awareness of the present. Stress-based therapy (MBSR) uses exercise, yoga, and meditation to help individuals manage and cope with an illness. These exercises may sometimes be combined with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to treat depression.

Family Therapy

Family psychotherapy helps families come to terms with or overcome concerns impacting multiple family constituents. It can be beneficial when the actions of an individual or a group of people are hurting the family unit. These concerns could include the following:

  • Divorce

  • Substance use disorders 

  • Domestic violence

  • Grief and loss 

  • Adolescent concerns 

  • Mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another concern

  • Adoption or fostering 

  • Conflict

  • Communication challenges 

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

With the assistance of a trained therapist, a family dealing with a particular issue can understand the root cause, learn to communicate, and discuss solutions that benefit everyone. 

Couples counseling

Couples therapy supports couples experiencing challenges or looking for growth. These challenges could include discussing an affair, financial concerns, or wanting to increase intimacy. Couples sessions might be done together or individually through various types of relationship therapy.

If you're considering couples therapy, note that it is not only for couples experiencing conflict or divorce. Any couples, including unmarried ones, may benefit from meeting with a therapist, and you do not have to have a mental health diagnosis or severe challenge to schedule a session.

Teen Therapy focuses on young children, teens, and adolescents with mental health-related issues regarding school and home functioning. Online therapy for teens eliminates many of the barriers that may have previously deterred them from seeking assistance. It offers a sense of anonymity that can encourage open and honest communication, allowing teens to express their thoughts and emotions more freely. 


It provides solutions to teens who struggle with mental health-related issues such as anxiety, oppositional defiant behaviors, trauma, and/or who are experiencing a dysfunctional or stressful home and school environment.


The teenage years offer plenty of opportunities for self-discovery, individuality, and personal growth but they can also involve plenty of challenges, like:

  • hormonal changes that affect moods and emotions

  • friend group shifts

  • bullying

  • School or family stress

  • stress related to global concerns, like COVID-19 or climate change


These issues represent just a handful of the possible obstacles standing in the way of good emotional and mental health. In short, adolescence can be a rough time, something parents might remember from their own youth.

Take depression, for example. According to 2021 statistics from Mental Health America:

  • Nearly 14 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 had one or more major depressive episodes in the last year

  • Almost 10 percent live with major depression

  • Just under 60 percent of teens with depression never get professional support

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

This research-based therapy is often used to help clients address symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. However, therapists can also use it to treat other mental health issues. The CBT approach focuses on the present instead of delving into past events.

CBT which stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, largely focuses on the mental health issue of how maladaptive behaviors develop due to negative thought patterns. Many therapists apply the principles of CBT to their approaches to treating psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, or emotional difficulties. 

As the title “behavioral therapy” implies, CBT focuses on addressing and adjusting behaviors. It aims to challenge clients' negative thoughts and help them understand how their thought patterns may be connected to their behaviors and moods. Studies have shown that CBT benefits people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, substance use disorders, mood disorders, phobias, and other conditions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a goal-oriented approach to counseling. It works to change thinking patterns to improve how a person feels. However, CBT does not physically cure symptoms.

It allows people to learn to care for themselves, lessening the distressing effects. It focuses on self-empowerment, growth, and self-esteem. CBT can help individuals change their behavioral reactions using emotional control skills learned during sessions. 

CBT may not be useful for everyone. It can require a commitment and willingness to cooperate and try new skills. Like many types of therapy, you can do CBT in individual, couples, family, or group settings.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of CBT often beneficial in treating conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder or phobias. This form of behavior therapy allows clients to face their fears by continuously exposing them to what they fear through desensitization.

The practice starts small and grows in intensity. However, the client controls what occurs and can let the therapist know how they'd like to begin. 

Exposure therapy is based on the behavioral theory that systematic desensitization can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Current literature supports the idea that every time a person with symptoms of anxiety or OCD avoids something because of a feared outcome, it strengthens neural connections that associate the activity with danger (even when no danger is present).

Exposure therapy may be able to help rewire the brain to remove maladaptive mental processes that lead to anxiety and avoidance. ERP has been found to be over 90% effective in causing symptom remission in those with OCD. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic method developed in the 1980s as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It involves and eight-step process of memory processing and mental rehabilitation centered on desensitizing a patient to their traumatic memories via bilateral stimulation (BLS), or stimulation to both sides of the brain largely through the use of redirected eye movements.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) and other mental health conditions characterized by intense emotions. It involves four modules, including: 

  • Mindfulness skills 

  • Distress tolerance

  • Interpersonal effectiveness

  • Emotional control

DBT can be done in groups, for families, or as individuals. You don't have to have a personality disorder to benefit from DBT. As a structured therapy, anyone can take part. 

DBT builds off of the proven success of CBT therapy in helping clients understand the thought patterns behind their maladaptive behaviors.

The word dialectical means to combine opposite ideas. DBT therapists help their clients replace negative coping skills with positive ones, without invalidating the client’s strong emotions. Sessions of dialectical behavior therapy may integrate group therapy, behavioral experiments, and creating crisis plans. 

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is often used to treat specific forms of depression. It's a 12 to 16-week program with weekly one-hour sessions in which the therapist and individual follow a specific treatment regime. The treatment tackles the three components of depression, including symptom formation, personality issues, and social functioning problems.

IPT aims to understand depression, address its components, provide the individual with coping mechanisms, reduce symptoms, and repair interpersonal relationships with friends and family. 

Behavioral activation (BA)

Behavioral activation is a CBT technique to treat depression. Studies have shown that BA is as effective as more complicated treatments and medications in some cases. Through this method, therapists monitor individuals' moods and encourage them to engage more in positive activities, helping them find value and happiness in those interactions.

The goal is to create a robust support system around the individual, have their positive feelings outweigh the negatives, and provide them with the skills they seek to get through future challenging moments. 

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy also called more simply psychodynamic therapy, is a type of therapy that focuses on self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. This therapeutic approach is a newer modality that veers away from now outdated ideas about mental health conditions. Rather than treating mental illness like a disease that needs to be cured, this approach looks at how things such as interpersonal relationships, self-awareness, and emotional blind spots play into symptoms of mental health conditions. During psychodynamic psychotherapy sessions, clients can expect to delve deep into their personal thoughts, beliefs, and feelings to reveal deeper truths about themselves, while the therapist facilitates the process by asking open-ended questions. 

A meta-analysis of the results of psychodynamic psychotherapy on 1,431 patients with varying mental health conditions, published in American Psychologist, reported that the 9-month follow-up revealed that DBT therapy could be more effective than antidepressants for reducing existing symptoms. Not only that, but the benefits of the treatment seemed to continue and increase months after the treatment ended. A systematic review of eight meta-analyses supported the claim that psychodynamic psychotherapy is an effective treatment option, even for personality disorders like BPD.  


While the therapies listed above all fall under the umbrella of psychotherapy, psychotherapy is a type of therapy. Instead of focusing on the present, like CBT, psychotherapy delves into the past to understand the difficulties a person may be facing in the present. Psychotherapy sessions may last longer than CBT and take a more subconscious approach to treatment. 

Is therapy only for people with mental illnesses?

Mental health treatment can come with various myths and stigmas. One such myth is that therapy is only for those experiencing a mental health condition. Some may believe that you must be diagnosed with a mental health disorder or have a severe mental health challenge to reach out for a consultation. However, all types of therapy are much more than a treatment for mental health. 

Many people feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad, fearful, and confused from time to time. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 19.2% of adults received some form of mental health treatment in the previous twelve months. Seeing a therapist can help individuals manage their emotions, talk to a compassionate professional, and receive resources and guidance. It can be a way to get advice and feel in control of your life. 

Although therapy benefits a wide variety of individuals, it is not a quick fix or a band-aid solution to a problem. It's a careful, methodical practice that creates a proper foundation for the individual in need to find contentment in their life. It can take months or years to see significant changes or results, but results are common, and many forms of therapy have been found effective. 

If you're considering treatment, search for a mental health professional specializing in the type of therapy you think will work best for you. An in-person or online therapist can guide you toward the goals you and your therapist have come up with together. You can also reach out to your primary care physician for a referral.

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Alternative therapy options

Online therapy is an option if finding time for a session is a challenge. If you're looking for someone to talk to, you can find a licensed professional therapist through a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Lighthouse Counseling Solutions for couples, teens, and families. They can assist you with gaining tools to address challenges in your life, including assessing the types of therapy applicable to you. You can set a time to see your therapist at your convenience and at an affordable rate from home and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. 

Online therapy is also effective. One study found that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional sessions. 96% of people using online therapy reported feeling a personal connection with their online therapists as opposed to 91% who saw face-to-face therapists. Clients were also more invested in completing homework the therapists assigned them and occasionally reviewed correspondence between them and their therapists, leading them to move forward with their lives. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration declares that synchronous telehealth services are effective in treating serious mental illness as well as substance use disorder, offering advantages such as opportunities for healthcare providers in areas where there are shortages in qualified mental health professionals. (BetterHelp)


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