Types of Psychotherapy
Should you get family therapy or individual? Find out the types of therapies.

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Picture depicting brain activity Types of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a method of talking with a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or professional counselor. Many forms of psychotherapy can help people having difficulty in life, those who wish to make some kind of change in their personal or professional life, or people suffering from depression, anxiety or other serious mental health problems.

Medication may be used with psychotherapy. For many people, this is the best approach to treatment. For example, the recovery success rate for those with depression who combine psychotherapy with medication to control symptoms is more than 80 percent, according to some studies.

Although best in person, therapy is also provided on the phone, via e-mail, and online. Therapy can be held in one-on-one sessions, family or couple sessions, or in a group led by a trained counselor.

  • Family therapy or couples therapy. Family therapy includes discussion and problem-solving sessions with every member of the family. Some sessions are done as a group, in couples, or one on one. Family or couples therapy is helpful when one of the family member's physical or mental health is directly affecting family dynamics or the well-being of significant relationships. In therapy, interpersonal relationships shared among family members are examined and communication is strengthened. If a family member suffers from depression, the roles played by various family members in reinforcing the depression often are examined.
  • Group therapy. In group therapy, a small group of people meet regularly to discuss individual issues and help each other with problems with the guidance of a trained therapist.

Different approaches to psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is not limited to a particular type or technique. Many therapists are trained in several different approaches. They then combine techniques from these various approaches that fit their own style and personality and the needs of the patient.

The following are common types of therapy.

Behavior therapy
Behavior therapy, also called behavior modification or behaviorism, sets up rewards and punishments to change thinking patterns and shape behavior. Behavioral therapy can involve relaxation training, stress management, biofeedback and desensitization of phobias. Behavioral therapists help patients learn how to get more satisfaction and rewards through their own actions and how to unlearn the behavioral patterns that contribute to, or result from, their problems.

Cognitive therapy
Cognitive therapy seeks to identify and correct thinking patterns that can lead to troublesome feelings and behaviors. Beliefs and expectations are explored to identify how they shape a person's experiences. If a thought or belief is too rigid and causes problems, the therapist helps the client to modify his or her belief so that it is less extreme.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps a person to recognize his or her own negative thought patterns and behaviors and to replace them with positive ones. Used both with and without medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most popular and commonly used therapy for the treatment of depression. A major aim of CBT is to reduce anxiety and depression by eliminating beliefs or behaviors that help to maintain problematic emotions.

CBT generally lasts about 12 weeks and may be conducted individually or in a group. There is evidence that the beneficial effects of CBT last longer than those of medication for people with panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress syndrome and social phobia.

Gestalt is based on two ideas. In contrast to psychotherapy approaches which look at the unknown and even unknowable, gestalt therapists look at the here and now of living. The other idea is that we are caught in a web of relationship with all things. It is only possible to truly know ourselves as we exist in relation to other things. Behind this idea is the conviction that studying, describing and observing what is in this moment lets us fully understand ourselves.

Interpersonal therapy
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term therapy often used to treat depression. This treatment approach focuses on an individual's social relationships and how to improve social support. IPT therapy seeks to improve a person's relationship skills, working on communication more effectively, expressing emotions appropriately and being properly assertive in social and work situations. In depression, IPT helps patients learn how to deal more effectively with others to reduce conflict and gain support from family and friends. It is usually conducted, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, on an individual basis but also can be used in a group therapy setting.

Movement/dance/art/music therapy
These methods include the use of movement, art or music to express emotions. This type of therapy is effective for those who have difficulty expressing feelings.

Phototherapy (light therapy)
People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that is related to the change of the seasons within their geographic location, may benefit from bright light phototherapy. Phototherapy uses special light bulbs, which are much brighter than ordinary lights and made for this purpose. A physician or therapist instructs the patient in how to use these high-intensity lights to improve symptoms of seasonal depression.

Also called psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy, this type of treatment helps a person look inside himself or herself to discover and understand emotional conflicts that may be contributing to emotional problems. The therapist (psychoanalyst) helps the client "uncover" unconscious motivations, unresolved problems from childhood and early patterns to resolve issues and to become aware of how those motivations influence present actions and feelings. This is a lengthy process, typically taking several years.

There are different types of psychoanalysis, each with a different focus. Freudian psychoanalysis has been criticized because of its tendency to create long-term dependent relationships between the therapist and the client. Other types of psychoanalytically oriented therapy have become popular, such as Jungian therapy. Jungian therapy sessions focus more on the immediate situation and life problems than on the root of the problem to help individuals develop greater self-realization.

By Lila Havens, Staff Writer
Created on 09/04/2001
Updated on 06/16/2010
  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Psychotherapies for children and adolescents.
  • American Psychological Association. Different approaches to psychotherapy.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Psychotherapies.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Psychotherapy: how it works and how it can help.
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