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Different Types of Therapy Techniques

Medically Reviewed and Edited by 
Olga Kyrychenko, Psychologist

Navigating the landscape of therapy approaches and picking the right treatment type can be overwhelming: research has indicated the existence of more than 400 different modalities. It’s therefore essential to acquaint yourself with the various popular therapies before selecting the one best suited to your needs.

This wealth of therapy options is however a positive thing: Each treatment type comes with a different approach that prioritizes different dimensions of the human experience, encompassing the physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, and spiritual aspects.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the most common types of therapy, providing insights into how they work and talking about their benefits and disadvantages. By the end of this article, you’ll be better briefed to make an informed choice about your therapeutic journey.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy, rooted in psychoanalysis, focuses on the unconscious and the repressed. The basic assumption consists of considering the individual’s behavior as driven by deep or unconscious motivations, causes, and dynamics.

This approach focuses on exploring and analyzing previous experiences, negative and contradictory feelings, and repressed emotions to change the individual’s behavior in current experiences and relationships.

Psychodynamic therapy also aims to help those who are aware and understand the origins of their social difficulties, but are unable to overcome their problems on their own.

Almost all therapy sites offer this type of treatment, so go ahead and take a look at the full list of therapy sites we review to see if online therapy can be a good choice for you.

What is Psychodynamic Therapy Beneficial For?

Psychodynamic therapy is predominantly used for addressing depression and various profound psychological conditions, particularly in individuals who have experienced a loss of purpose in their existence and encounter challenges in establishing or sustaining interpersonal connections. Its applications also include addiction, social anxiety disorder, and eating disorders.

A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Psychiatry demonstrated its effectiveness.

What to Expect During Treatments

Through regular sessions with a trained therapist, patients are encouraged to speak freely about whatever comes to mind, including current problems, fears, desires, dreams, and fantasies. They are also encouraged to engage in free association and introspection.

The goal is not only to experience a remission of symptoms, but also to reap benefits such as increased self-esteem, better use of one’s talents and abilities, and an improved ability to develop and maintain more fulfilling relationships.

In addition to this, the psychodynamic psychotherapist has the task of supporting the patient in all their intense, painful, or distressed everyday experiences, providing empathy and listening. The psychologist-patient relationship is therefore fundamental.

Pros and Cons

One of the strengths of psychodynamic therapy lies in its depth-oriented approach, which can lead to profound insights and lasting changes. For those seeking to delve into their past and gain a deeper understanding of their emotions, psychodynamic therapy can offer a transformative experience.

However, its drawback might be the time-intensive nature of the process; it often requires multiple sessions over an extended period.

Psychoanalysis

Similarly to psychodynamic therapy, psychoanalysis is a type of talk-based therapy. The key difference lies in diving even deeper into the recesses of the unconscious mind.

According to psychoanalysis, personality is mainly determined by childhood experiences, which exert a significant influence on our current thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The therapeutic activity consists of trying to bring to the surface, or to the consciousness, traumatic, shameful, or extremely negative of the past that has fallen into the unconscious, promoting self-awareness and emotional healing.

Online therapy is not recommended for this approach: the effectiveness of psychoanalysis relies on non-verbal cues, transference, and the nuances of face-to-face interactions, which are often difficult to replicate in virtual settings. This is why most leading online therapy services don’t provide it as part of their offerings. For more information, read my guide on what is Psychoanalysis.

What is Psychoanalysis Beneficial for?

According to research, psychoanalytic techniques have demonstrated particular effectiveness in the treatment of mood disorders.

It’s also especially valuable for those dealing with complex mental health issues such as depression, emotional trauma, personality disorders, neurotic behavior patterns, and problems with self-identity and relationships.

What to Expect During Treatments

Psychoanalysis can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals, where they can freely express their innermost thoughts and feelings without judgment. It generally revolve around discussing dreams, memories, and early life experiences.

To facilitate self-reflection and introspection, psychoanalysis employs a range of techniques, such as free association and transference. Free association encourages clients to speak openly and without censorship, unveiling hidden connections between thoughts and emotions. With transference, clients project feelings and emotions onto the therapist, often reflecting unresolved issues from their past, fostering profound self-insight and personal growth.

Additionally, psychoanalysts use a range of other methods and interventions tailored to the individual’s unique needs, like exploring the patient’s early relationships, childhood traumas, and recurring patterns of behavior, and current challenges.

Pros and Cons

While psychoanalysis can lead to transformative personal growth, it’s typically a long-term therapeutic journey. The American Psychiatric Association mentions that therapy sessions generally take place three or more times a week.

Before considering psychoanalysis, ask yourself if you are willing to invest significant time and resources. Otherwise, I recommend taking a look at this guide for the most affordable therapy options online

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy operates on the principle that any behavior, whether adaptive or maladaptive, emerges as an outcome of conditioned responses to external factors: our past experiences shape our current behavior. The intent of this therapy is to modify and replace undesirable behaviors with more desirable ones through a systematic process.

What is Behavioral Therapy Beneficial for?

Behavioral therapy is particularly effective for alcohol and substance abuse disorders, but it is also widely used for addressing phobias, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

What to Expect During Treatments

Behavioral therapy is an action-oriented approach in which a trained therapist collaborates with the patient to identify specific triggers or past experiences that lead to negative behaviors. The purpose is to develop strategies to modify such behaviors.

One strategy called systematic desensitization, for instance, is used to gradually expose clients to feared situations or objects, helping them overcome phobias or anxieties. Another method, operant conditioning, involves using rewards and consequences to encourage positive behaviors and reduce negative ones.

Through strategies like these, therapy helps individuals gain control over their actions and improve their emotional well-being by targeting specific behaviors and thought patterns.

Pros and Cons

Behavioral therapy holds several advantages. As a goal-oriented approach, it allows for clearly defined objectives that help individuals measure their progress. Moreover, its practicality makes it a relatively short-term therapy compared to other approaches.

However, it might not be the most appropriate choice for more complex conditions since it may not address the underlying emotional factors as extensively as other approaches.

Discussing the suitability of this approach with a qualified mental health professional is therefore crucial.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT falls under the umbrella of behavioral therapies. This approach postulates a complex relationship between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, highlighting how emotional problems are the product of dysfunctional beliefs that are maintained over time.

The key point that distinguishes it from behavioral therapy is the importance given to the subjective representation of reality in the origin and maintenance of emotional and behavioral disorders. This implies that psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems are not created exclusively by external factors and events, but are largely influenced by the individual’s cognitive structures and constructions.

For more information, read my guide on what is CBT – where you can find its main uses, benefits and the best places to find treatment online.

What is CBT Beneficial for?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the primary treatment for anxiety disorders. It’s an effective treatment also for many conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, insomnia, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder. Furthermore, CBT has been proven to be the most effective therapy type to be used online.

What to Expect During Treatments

CBT aims to help patients identify recurring negative thoughts, beliefs, and dysfunctional cognitive patterns to regulate painful emotions, interrupt the vicious circles that maintain suffering, and create the conditions to solve the problem.

It involves cognitive, behavioral, and imaginative techniques:

  • cognitive techniques are based on Socratic questioning, in which the therapist asks questions that help the patient discover the relationship between their ideas, choices, actions, and emotional suffering.
  • behavioral exercises (e.g. gradual exposures to feared situations, relaxation techniques) aim to explore new strategies to manage moments of difficulty, potentially more effectively or with reduced side effects.
  • Imaginative techniques aim to encourage exploration of one’s internal states and reduce fear of emotions and certain mental experiences.

CBT generally involves weekly meetings of 45-50 minutes for an average duration of six months which can be extended up to twelve months in cases of severe emotional suffering.

Pros and Cons

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a comprehensive, flexible, and effective approach. It achieves significant improvements in a short time and for a wide variety of problems. Its focus on practical strategies equips individuals with tools they can apply in real-life situations. Furthermore, it is the therapy with the most experimental evidence that supports its effectiveness.

However, some critics argue that the approach is excessively mechanistic, neglecting to fully explore the underlying emotional complexities in certain cases.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic psychology focuses attention on the individual in its entirety and complexity, claiming that only reading on multiple levels and from multiple points of view (emotional, neurological, behavioral, cognitive…) can fully describe the human being.

The central aspect of the humanistic approach is the belief that each individual possesses potential, often unexpressed, which must be discovered and developed in order to truly speak of a person’s well-being.

Humanistic therapy promotes the authentic and creative expression of the personality which must not be “normalized”, but valued in its uniqueness and diversity.

What is Humanistic Therapy Beneficial for?

The humanistic approach is particularly suitable in cases where an individual is unable to get in touch with their own experiences and recognize their emotions, establishing a relationship of inauthenticity with themselves and the therapist, frustrating the efforts of other types of therapies.

Humanistic therapy can be a good choice also for addressing self-esteem issues, difficulties coping with chronic health concerns, dealing with effects of trauma, depression, and feelings of worthlessness or being lost in life.

What to Expect During Treatments

The therapist creates a supportive, empathetic environment that allows clients (preferably term over “patients”) to explore their feelings, thoughts, and experiences without judgment. This approach emphasizes personal responsibility and self-awareness, encouraging individuals to tap into their inherent strengths.

Because there are no intervention techniques or protocols, the therapist is free to interact with the individuality of the client. The relationship, however, must follow a certain pattern to be effective:

  • Non-directivity: The relationship established between therapist and client is equal, the therapist encourages the client to use their personal resources to find a solution to the problem presented.
  • Empathy: In order for the relationship to lead to results, the therapist must put on the client’s shoes and try to see the world through their eyes, abandoning their own personal schemes.
  • Acceptance: The therapist accepts the client’s thoughts and behaviors unconditionally and for this reason listens actively and without prejudice.

Pros and Cons

Humanistic therapy centers on the individual’s potential for self-growth and self-actualization, leading to a transformative journey of personal empowerment and self-discovery. A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of this therapy reported, on average, large amounts of change over time.

However, its less structured nature might not suit individuals who prefer clear directives and concrete strategies.

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotion-focused therapy is an approach based on methods and procedures designed to help people accept, express, regulate, make sense of, and transform emotions.

It is based on the assumption that emotions have an innate adaptive potential that has phylogenetically evolved to help us survive and thrive. Emotions are connected to our most essential needs, they quickly warn us of situations important to our well-being, prepare us, and motivate us to take action to meet our needs. Basically, emotions tell us what is important to us in a situation and thus act as a guide as to what we need or want. This, in turn, helps us understand what actions are appropriate for achieving goals.

The adaptive potential of emotions, when activated, can help people change problematic emotional-affective states. That is the reason why ETF is considered the most effective couple therapy: 90% of couples who go through EFT significantly improve their relationship and 70-75% of couples no longer fit the criteria for relationship distress.

For more information, I recommend reading my guide for the best online couples therapy or my review of ReGain – which is currently the best online couples therapy site in my opinion. 

What is EFT Beneficial for?

EFT offers a safe and structured environment to explore and process emotions, making this therapy beneficial for individuals struggling with emotional difficulties such as depression, anxiety, and unresolved trauma.

Additionally, EFT is valuable in addressing issues related to interpersonal relationships, including couples therapy, as it focuses on improving communication and emotional connection.

What to Expect During Treatments

EFT is a short-term structured approach (8 to 20 sessions), where therapists guide clients through exploring their emotional experiences, helping them gain insights into their emotional patterns and develop healthier ways of managing emotions.

Interventions and change strategies are collaborative in nature, meaning the client is always personally involved. The EFT process has been mapped into a clearly defined system of nine three-step phases that help guide the therapist and track progress. The three steps are:

  1. stabilization, necessary to increase the awareness, flexibility, and openness of the client, who begins to explore his own internal and interpersonal models and to expand his own window of tolerance
  2. restructuring, in which the individual acquires the ability to engage more deeply with their emotions, more consistently and for longer periods, learning to recognize his own needs and to communicate them coherently to the reference people
  3. consolidation/integration, in which the therapist helps clients see how they entered negative patterns in the first place and points out how they were able to change those patterns.

Pros and Cons

EFT can be particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with emotional regulation, interpersonal conflicts, and unresolved emotional wounds.

However, engaging deeply with emotions over an extended period can be emotionally draining. Some individuals might experience emotional fatigue or feel overwhelmed by the intensity of the therapeutic process.

Moreover, EFT’s primary emphasis on emotions may leave certain cognitive aspects of mental health unaddressed, making it not the appropriate choice for more serious issues.

Psychiatric Care

Psychiatric care is an approach that integrates therapeutic interventions with medication treatment. It’s provided by psychiatrists, who are medical doctors with specialized training in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses.

A correct psychiatric therapy must treat, with a combination of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, the disease and not just the symptom.

It’s crucial to emphasize that an accurate diagnosis is best achieved through face-to-face consultations, especially in severe cases. In-person assessments allow for a comprehensive evaluation, including a thorough medical history, mental status examination, and direct interaction with the patient, ensuring an accurate diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis is established, further treatment and prescription management can be done online. For more information, read my detailed guide about online psychiatry or my Brightside review.

What is Psychiatric Care Beneficial for?

Psychiatric care is beneficial for individuals dealing with a wide range of mental health conditions, such as mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder), anxiety disorders (anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder), psychotic disorders (schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder), personality disorders (like borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder), and trauma-related disorders (such as PTSD and acute stress disorder).

What to Expect During Treatments

Psychiatric care typically begins with a thorough assessment, which may include a detailed medical and psychiatric history, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests if necessary.

The psychiatrist collaborates closely with the patient to establish an accurate diagnosis and develop a personalized treatment plan, which depending on the case, can include a psychopharmacology prescription and/or psychotherapy sessions.

Patients can expect regular follow-up appointments with their psychiatrist to assess progress, adjust medications if necessary, and address any emerging concerns or side effects.

Pros and Cons

Psychiatric care offers an integrated approach to mental health care. As medical doctors, psychiatrists possess the added advantage of medical knowledge and the ability to prescribe medications, making the therapy highly effective.

However, it’s important to consider that psychiatric medications sometimes have undesirable side effects; thus, monitoring and modification might be required.

It is also worth mentioning that some individuals still face stigmatization regarding psychiatric care, particularly concerning the use of medication. Mental health conditions are no different from physical health conditions, and seeking treatment is a courageous and responsible step toward wellness.

What Type of Therapy Do You Need?

Choosing the most suitable psychotherapeutic approach for your situation is not an easy task. Conducting research on the matter it’s already a positive and constructive step toward accessing the support you need.

Keep in mind that choosing the right psychotherapy depends on several factors:

  • Specific problems or symptoms: Some forms of psychotherapy are more effective for certain problems or symptoms, so it’s important to consider what your specific needs are.
  • Personal preference: Some forms of psychotherapy may be more or less suited to your personal preferences. For example, if you prefer a more direct, hands-on approach, you may be more comfortable with behavior therapy.
  • Relationship with the therapist: According to the American Psychological Association, the relationship you will have with the therapist is crucial for the success of the therapy. Make sure you choose a therapist you feel comfortable with and can build trust with. If you find that you’re not establishing a trusting connection with your therapist, consider searching for a different one. Finding the right therapist might require multiple attempts.

Also, remember that it’s perfectly normal to try different approaches before you find the right one for you.

Therapy will be challenging, no matter which approach you opt for. It’s natural to feel uneasy or anxious when sharing mental health symptoms and personal thoughts with someone unfamiliar. However, remember that often it gets easier as you continue with therapy over time.

Disclaimer

It’s essential to emphasize that any therapeutic treatment is most effective and beneficial when pursued after a proper diagnosis or when an individual’s situation has reached a level of stability that allows for focused treatment: these treatments are designed to provide valuable support and healing, but they may not be suitable for immediate crisis situations.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing mental health challenges, it is advisable to seek a professional evaluation and diagnosis before embarking on a specific therapeutic path.

In case of an acute crisis or immediate danger, contact the emergency services or a crisis hotline (988) for immediate assistance.