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Choosing the Therapy That’s Right For You

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Rather than dismissing thoughts and emotions as irrelevant, cognitive-behavioral therapy views them as “internal events” and incorporates them into behavioral techniques. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has developed into several branches, but all see thoughts as closely related to behavior and motivation, and all use behavior changing techniques. Two examples of this approach are:

  • Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET), which assumes that self-defeating thoughts shape behavior. It attempts to change the thoughts rather than the behavior itself. RET holds that all well functioning people should act rationally. If they don’t, it’s because they have faulty conceptions of reality that need to be altered. For example, if you believe that you always should make everyone happy or that everything you do should be perfect, you are likely to be disappointed. If you see these disappointments as your own fault, you may develop a negative self-image. RET aims to reshape these beliefs and self-evaluations.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression, which tries to identify self-defeating beliefs and works on disproving them experimentally. We often look for evidence that supports our faulty assumptions (“I got laid off from work, so it’s true that I am always incompetent.”) and ignore evidence that should challenge them (“People always ask me for advice, but it’s just because they don’t know any better”). Learning to look at all evidence will help you to “disprove” these beliefs.

Humanistic-Experiential Therapy

Humanistic-experiential therapy sees Psychological illness as a result of the alienation, lack of genuine meaning, and loneliness of the modern world. The therapist acts mostly as a guide, letting you be primarily responsible for directing the therapy.

There are several branches within this general area. Two of these are:

  • Client-centered therapy, which – although rarely practiced in its pure form – influenced the humanistic-experiential approach. This approach lets you, rather than your therapist, direct the treatment. The therapist provides warmth and understanding, and, by reflecting back to you what you say, helps you identify your feelings and accept them.
  • Gestalt therapy, which looks at the unity of mind and body and the need to integrate thought and action. The focus is becoming fully aware of yourself and accepting responsibility for your own behavior. A key concept of Gestalt therapy is identifying “unfinished business” from the past that takes energy away from the present.


Although these approaches are distinct schools, many therapists use techniques from more than one of them. For example, relationship therapy may come from any of these perspectives.

Therapy for interpersonal relationships sees individual behavior as a symptom of a larger unit. Therapists work with groups, such as families or couples. They watch interactions and identify patterns and sources of conflict. Often all members of the unit need to change their behavior to satisfy other members and make the group function more smoothly.

Ask your therapist about his or her own approach, and make sure that you are comfortable with it. Being aware of your options will help ensure that your therapy is right for you.

Choosing the Therapy That’s Right For You

Harold Cohen, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Cohen, H. (2018). Choosing the Therapy That’s Right For You. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.