You’re ready to seek professional mental health support, but with so many types of psychotherapy available, you may be unsure what’s the best option for you.
This is why a recommended first step toward starting psychotherapy is to learn about what each approach is typically used for and how it may help you.
Here’s an overview.
Psychotherapy is just another term for talk therapy. The word “therapy” comes from the Greek “therapeia” (healing), while “psycho” comes from “psykhē” (mind, spirit, and faculty of reason).
In general, therapy consists of a few or many sessions, where you meet with a trained counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental healthcare professional.
During these sessions, you and your therapist work together to identify those aspects you want or need to work on the most.
Sometimes, this is about a specific concern you want to learn to cope with — for example, you’d like to improve your communication skills or get better at conflict resolution.
Many times, there’s not one specific thing you want to address. You might just want a space to vent or discuss your day-to-day feelings.
Psychotherapy, generally, is based on methods like talking, listening, and engaging in other methods of expression. These methods might change, though, depending on which psychotherapy approach you go for.
In fact, many therapists combine different strategies, depending on your therapy goals as well as their training and experience.
Which type of therapy you pursue is often a personal choice. There is no “best” type of therapy that applies to everyone. Sometimes, you’ll find that one type of psychotherapy works for one thing, while a completely different one works for something else.
Knowing more about different types of psychotherapy could help you explore your options and get a better idea of what to look for.
There are many types of psychotherapy, but we’ll talk about the six most popular ones.
As its name indicates, IPT focuses on improving your interpersonal relationships and developing social skills as a way to decrease your distress.
During this type of therapy, you’ll probably go over your most significant relationships at the moment and talk about their specifics.
Your interpersonal psychotherapist will likely want to focus on:
- sources of social support in your life
- current or past romantic relationships
- communication styles you rely on
- interpersonal conflicts and challenges
Based on this information, they will suggest an interpersonal challenge to focus therapy on.
That focus will usually be on one of these four areas:
- Grieving process: if your current concerns are related to losing a significant one
- Role dispute: if your symptoms are linked to lack of reciprocity in one of your relationships
- Role transition: if you’re feeling distressed from an important life change you’re going through
- Interpersonal deficits: if there’s no specific event to work on, but instead a long-standing pattern of interpersonal challenges
An IPT therapist will often provide you with practical ways to approach your challenges and resolve your conflicts. They’ll also listen to your needs and wants and incorporate them into the treatment plan.
IPT is often recommended for mood disorders and other conditions, including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders
- postpartum depression
- borderline personality disorder
IPT is a short-term treatment that usually lasts between 12 and 16 weeks. You’ll probably attend weekly 50-minute sessions during this time.
Treatment is usually divided into three phases:
- Initial: lasts about 3 weeks and focuses on gathering information and identifying the key elements to work on
- Intermediate or middle: works on resolving interpersonal roadblocks that might be linked to your mood symptoms
- Final: the final two sessions will focus on getting therapy closure
Although IPT is often focused on adults, many therapists will also treat children and adolescents.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, also called CBT, aims to identify thought patterns and beliefs that might be affecting your life negatively. Then, it specifically addresses these patterns.
The CBT strategy is goal oriented. It doesn’t delve deep into your past experiences. Instead, it focuses on solving current challenges.
The behavioral component of this therapy means that a therapist will focus on your experience — on what’s observable rather than an interpretation of it.
This means that once certain thought patterns are identified, your therapist will work with you on developing practical strategies to help you overcome them.
These strategies might include:
- developing and practicing new coping skills
- setting short- and long-term goals
- developing new problem-solving skills
- journaling and self-monitoring
- developing stress-management skills
CBT encourages your active participation and collaboration in the treatment process. This is why it will often include homework.
This means that you’ll set certain goals and practice some exercises for the days between sessions. You’ll then discuss your experiences with your therapist.
CBT is usually a short-term therapy. It’s been deemed an effective treatment for different mental health conditions and personal challenges, including:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- chronic pain
- bipolar disorder
- anger management
- personality disorders
- eating disorders
- marital conflict resolution
- academic performance
The main goal of CBT is to promote self-awareness. This is based on the concept that you might not be able to change your life’s particular circumstances, but you can switch your perception of and reaction to them.
The word “dialectical” refers to a discussion and integration of two opposing forces. In other words, it’s when two opposites become or are true at the same time — for example, when it’s sunny but also rainy.
DBT comes from CBT, so it shares some of that therapy’s methods and goals, and it’s also evidence based. What’s unique to DBT is its focus on balancing acceptance and change.
In other words, your therapist will explore contradictory, or opposite, ideas in different scenarios. Then, they’ll work with you to identify how these relate or how they can be valid at the same time. Finally, you’ll explore how to accept that both of these opposing views may have important truths to contribute to the same situation.
For example, you have your own opinions and perceptions about your relationships. You feel those are the “truth” about these bonds. But it’s probable that the other people in those relationships have their own “truths” as well.
In DBT, you’ll work toward exploring the other perspectives and truths in those scenarios that are causing you distress. This will be done in a way that doesn’t dismiss your position, but rather helps you consider and introduce an alternative view that may also be valid.
You’ll also try to identify specific behaviors that may be causing you and others distress, and you’ll work on developing skills or strategies to modify those behaviors.
DBT was initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder, but it has been adapted to treat other conditions and concerns as well.
It works well for people who hold very strong opinions or views about important topics in their life.
As part of the dialectical relationship, a therapist will validate and accept these positions, hold their own positions, and then work to bring those two together.
This exercise aims to help you identify when you’re holding on to rigid ideas or opinions that may be hurting you and others. You’ll learn to identify what may be true in other perspectives and positions, even when they’re opposite to yours.
Psychoanalytic therapy is a type of therapy originally based on Sigmund Freud’s theory of mind, or psychoanalysis.
This therapy work to uncover unconscious thoughts that may inadvertently affect your current behaviors, emotions, and perceptions. These deeply kept thoughts are often linked to childhood experiences that weren’t resolved or addressed before.
Psychoanalytical therapy is performed by a specially trained doctor, psychologist, or clinical social worker. Trained psychoanalysts spend years in classes, working with patients under supervision, and getting psychoanalytical therapy themselves.
Psychoanalytical therapy is usually a long-term treatment that may last years. Fifty-minute sessions are typically scheduled from one to four times per week.
Psychodynamic therapy is similar to psychoanalysis but usually applied in the short term. It focuses on how your unconscious thought processes and emotions may have developed from past personal relationships and how they impact your daily life.
It’s usually limited in session number and is done once or twice per week face to face, usually for less than 6 months.
Both psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies are chosen for conditions such as:
- chronic depression
- anxiety disorders
- somatic disorders
- borderline personality disorder
- substance use disorders
- eating disorders
The relationship between the therapist and the person in therapy is of utmost importance here. It usually brings to light many of your patterns and unconscious conflicts.
Humanistic therapy focuses on your unique traits and features instead of trying to identify what’s common between you and others to label these common traits as a condition.
This approach focuses on how you see yourself and your world, and how these perceptions impact your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
The main goal of humanistic therapy is to help you reach your full potential by becoming more self-aware and accepting.
One way of doing this is by letting you guide your own process, instead of gearing you to talk about or work on specific topics. A humanistic therapist will trust how you want to approach each session.
There are many therapy approaches based on humanism. They include:
- person-centered therapy
- gestalt therapy
- existential psychotherapy
- experiential psychotherapy
- positive psychology
These person-focused approaches are usually recommended for people living with:
An eclectic approach to psychotherapy will draw techniques and goals from different types of psychotherapy. It’s also referred to as multimodal therapy.
The main focus of an eclectic therapy is to be flexible and adapt to the needs and goals of the person in therapy.
This doesn’t mean your therapist doesn’t have a clear therapeutic orientation. They often do. But they also adopt therapeutic methods from other approaches to respond to specific needs.
Eclectic therapy can work for all types of concerns and needs. It’s important, however, to make sure your eclectic therapist is well trained in all the methods they’ll try with you.
This type of therapy can be done in the long term or short term, depending on your goals and needs.
Brief eclectic psychotherapy (BEP) is often geared toward people with PTSD symptoms. It usually consists of 16 weekly sessions and addresses specific trauma symptoms as well as the emotional impact of trauma.
When deciding what type of therapy to pursue, there are several things to keep in mind:
- What type of concern do you want to address?
- Is this a recent concern or have you been dealing with it for a long time?
- Have you received a previous diagnosis or do you want to focus on everyday challenges?
- Do you want to understand your emotions and behaviors or focus on changing them?
You don’t have to commit to one approach or therapy from the beginning.
You may want to consider setting up consultations with a few therapists. That way, you’ll be able to talk about what you feel you need and hear how they’d approach it.
It’s advisable to check a therapist’s credentials and type of training they received. It’s also important to understand that you may not have rapport with a specific therapist but you may find it with another one working from the same approach.
Psychotherapy consists of talk sessions with a trained professional geared toward addressing your concerns and needs.
There are many reasons to attend therapy, from addressing emotional concerns to wanting to develop specific skills. Some people also like having a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings.
There’s no need to select a psychotherapy approach before starting the process. You may want to schedule a few consultations first.
These resources may help you find a therapist and more information:
- American Psychiatric Association’s find a psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s find a psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ find a psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness helplines and support tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s helpline directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists