Which kind of counseling is best for me?
There are many different kinds of therapy or counseling out there. Some mental health professionals specialize in one type of therapy, and others specialize in multiple styles. Depending on what you’re struggling with and what level of care you need, different therapies will help in different ways. This fact sheet explains some of the most popular kinds of therapy available.
If you are looking for a counselor, you can ask them:
- What kind of therapy do you practice?
- For what I’m going through, would you recommend that treatment style for me?
- Can you share what a typical session is like with you?
Using the Find a Therapist tool on PsychologyToday.com, you can quickly screen what types of therapy each therapist specializes in. We recommend giving your therapist a brief interview to ensure they’re the right fit for you.
The Most Common Types of Therapeutic Approaches
The main idea: Behavioral therapy focuses on changing behavior patterns by practicing healthier behaviors and habits, such as rewarding positive actions. In this type of therapy, a therapist assumes that we learn specific behaviors and can also change these learned behaviors.
What it looks like in practice: Behavioral therapy includes an array of methods such as stress management, biofeedback, and relaxation training. Biofeedback refers to listening to what your body is feeling or “telling” you through sensations in the body.
Who typically finds it most helpful: Behavioral therapy is an approach that helps change compulsive behaviors and is common in treating autism spectrum disorders.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The main idea: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing unhelpful thoughts that can lead to unproductive feelings and behaviors. By exploring our beliefs and thoughts, we learn to identify how they affect our actions.
What it looks like in practice: CBT is a short-term, focused approach that often lasts about 12 weeks. The therapist helps you recognize negative thought patterns and behaviors so you can replace them with positive ones.
DialecticAL Behavior Therapy (DBT)
What it looks like in practice: DBT often combines individual counseling with group therapy sessions and homework in between. It offers a lot of practical skills you can use throughout your life.
Who typically finds it helpful: This type of therapy tends to help people experiencing Borderline Personality Disorder and people who have difficulty regulating their intense emotions. DBT can also be helpful for people who have consistently unstable relationships in their life.
The main idea: Family therapy involves a whole family working together to improve communication, relationships, and the struggles of individual family members.
What it looks like in practice: The therapist guides the family in problem-solving or helps them adjust to a new situation. Usually, the whole family goes along to the initial appointment with a counselor or therapist. Later in treatment, the therapist might also want to meet in smaller groups of family members periodically.
Who typically finds it most helpful: Family therapy often helps with addressing relationship conflicts, eating disorders, and substance abuse concerns.
The main idea: Group therapy can take many forms, but most involve bringing together people dealing with similar issues. Some groups are structured and meant to teach group members new skills. Group sessions could focus on coping skills for depression or self-harm or learning anxiety management techniques. Other groups are more free-flowing and allow members to talk about their experiences and support each other, like a grief support group.
What it looks like in practice: Some groups meet for a specific length of time while others are open-ended and keep going for years. Therapy groups are often led by one or more trained mental health professionals. In peer support groups, everyone shares equally without a professional group facilitator.
Who typically finds it most helpful: Groups are beneficial for almost any issue. Support groups can be great for people looking to feel seen or understood by others going through similar circumstances. They can also help you find community in others with shared experiences. Read the group description or talk to the group facilitator to see if a particular group is right for you.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
The main idea: Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term treatment that focuses on:
- Relationships and how you can improve your social support
- Developing better communication skills
- Learning how to express emotions more effectively
- Becoming more confident with people at school and work
What it looks like in practice: Generally, sessions include learning and practicing skills. It’s not as likely to be talking about what’s present for you in your life.
The main idea: Mindfulness therapies help you build awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations and develop acceptance of yourself.
What it looks like in practice: Many types of therapies can include mindfulness tools, including CBT, DBT, psychodynamic and relational therapy. “Mindfulness” means being aware of what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.
Who typically finds it most helpful: These approaches are beneficial for many issues, especially anxiety and self-criticism. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a specific kind of mindfulness treatment that can help to prevent depression relapse.
The main idea: This is usually an open-ended or longer-term therapy, where you and your therapist explore your thoughts and feelings and examine their root causes.
What it looks like in practice: Psychotherapists will likely set goals with you around building healthier behaviors and patterns. You’ll also have an opportunity to explain what is happening presently and how your past informs your current feelings and choices.
Who typically finds it most helpful: Psychodynamic Psychotherapy addresses a wide range of issues and provides a place for people who want to know themselves better or work on personal growth.
The main idea: This is a common type of therapy that focuses on your relationships with important people in your life.
What it looks like in practice: Through talking about your relationships with family and friends and paying attention to the way you relate to your therapist during sessions, you and your therapist work to address patterns that prevent you from having the connections you want.
About Youth Era
Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.