What kind of counseling is right for me?
There are many different types of therapy or counseling out there. Some mental health professionals specialize in one type of therapy, and others are trained in multiple styles. Some techniques are better suited for one or two specific mental health concerns while others can be used for a broad range of issues. 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 they practice, if that style is recommended for what you are struggling with, and what sessions with them are like. Using the Find a Therapist tool on PsychologyToday.com, you can easily screen what types of therapy and clientele each therapist specializes in. This makes it easy and effective in finding a new therapist that can match your needs. It’s also recommended to give your therapists a brief interview to make sure they’re the right fit for you.
Here are the most common types of therapeutic approaches:
The main idea: Behavioral therapy focuses on changing patterns of behavior by adopting techniques derived from learning principles, like rewarding positive actions. In this type of therapy, a therapist assumes that certain behaviors are learned, and these learned behaviors can be changed.
What it looks like in practice: Behavioral therapy includes an array of methods such as stress management, biofeedback, and relaxation training.
Who typically finds it most helpful: Behavioral therapy is an approach that is often used to help change compulsive behaviors and is a common approach in treating autism spectrum disorders.
Cognitive Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The main idea: Cognitive therapy or CBT focuses on identifying and changing unhelpful thoughts (called cognitions) that can lead to unproductive feelings and behaviors. Beliefs and thoughts are explored to identify how they affect your behavior.
What it looks like in practice: CBT is a short-term, focused approach that often lasts about 12 weeks, where the therapist helps you recognize negative thought patterns and behaviors to replace them with positive ones.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
The main idea: In DBT, you learn ways to tolerate your intense feelings, cope when emotions feel overwhelming, and express your feelings to others in more productive and healthy ways.
What it looks like in practice: DBT often combines individual counseling with group therapy sessions, and homework in between.
Who typically finds it helpful: This type of therapy is commonly used with people who have borderline personality disorder, and people who have strong mood shifts or difficulty regulating their intense emotions.
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 periodically meet with smaller groups of family members (just the kids, or mom and daughter only, etc).
Who typically finds it most helpful: Family therapy is often used to address 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. Groups can be structured and education-focused, where members share coping skills for depression or self-harm, or learn anxiety management techniques. Other groups are less structured and provide a space for members to talk about their experiences and get support, like a grief support group.
What it looks like in practice: Some groups meet for a specific, short period of time and some are open-ended that keep going for years. Therapy groups will be led by one or more trained mental health professionals. In self-help groups, everyone shares equally and there is no trained facilitator.
Who typically finds it most helpful: Groups can be helpful for almost any issue. Read a description of the group or talk to the group facilitator to see if a particular group is right for you.
The main idea: Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term treatment that focuses on relationships and the ways you can improve your social support, develop better communication skills, learn how to express emotions more effectively, and become more confident with people at school and at work.
What it looks like in practice: Sessions are likely to be focused more on tasks and learning skills than on talking about what’s going on 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 helpful for many issues, and especially anxiety and self-criticism. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a specific kind of mindfulness treatment that is designed 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: While most psychotherapists will set goals with you and talk about what’s going on in the present, they will also want to talk about your past and be curious about when and how your distressing feelings and patterns started.
Who typically finds it most helpful: This therapy can be used to address a wide range of issues, as well as provide 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, as well as paying attention to the way you relate to your therapist during sessions, you and your therapist work to address patterns that are preventing you from having the connections you want.
Who typically finds it most helpful: This type of therapy is used for a broad range of issues, including depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.