What Type of Therapy Is Right for Me? Therapy Types Explained

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Whether you’re dealing with depression, addiction or any other mental health issue that’s impacting your life, there’s no need to go through it alone. Therapy can be a life-changing way to work through a variety of different challenges you’ve faced or are facing in life, all with the help of a trained professional to guide you.

When you first begin to look into prospective therapists, you might be surprised to discover how many different types of therapy there actually are. We’ll break down each of these treatment modalities to give you an idea of what each one aims to help you accomplish (and how).

Psychodynamic Therapy Focuses on Finding Out the “Why”

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Psychodynamic therapy evolved out of traditional psychoanalysis, which delves into a patient’s conscious and subconscious minds to determine how they affect the patient’s thoughts and behaviors. By exploring the way a person’s mental and emotional processes work, the therapist’s goal is to identify underlying issues that may be causing difficulties.

Psychodynamic therapists strive to uncover the “why” behind various mental health issues and bring them to light, which allows the patient to understand and address those issues more clearly. These types of therapists use talk therapy to evaluate things like a person’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs (both conscious and unconscious) and early life experiences to determine how all these elements have impacted the patient and influenced how they see themselves.

The idea is that, by speaking freely about your memories, fears, desires and emotions, you’ll ideally be able to push past subconscious defense mechanisms like denial and repression. This can help you uncover past experiences or emotions that you’ve found too painful to work through alone, allowing you to deal with them in a safe, supportive environment.

Psychodynamic therapy can be helpful for dealing with issues such as (but not limited to):

  • Anxiety
  • Panic or anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stress-related physical symptoms
  • Social anxiety or difficulty with relationships

Behavioral Therapy Helps Break Unhelpful Behavioral Patterns

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Behavioral therapy is less concerned with the “why” behind your challenges and more focused on addressing certain behavioral patterns that may be causing difficulties in your life. As we go through life, we all develop habits we use to respond to certain things, some of which are healthier than others. As these unhealthy patterns of behavior become ingrained over the years, they can become difficult to identify and break without outside help.

The goal of behavioral therapy is to address problematic patterns of behavior in an effort to change them. Some techniques that are commonly used in behavioral therapy include things like systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization involves gradual exposure to things that trigger you to feel fear, usually after you’ve performed a series of relaxation exercises. Over time, your mind learns to respond to these triggers with relaxation rather than fear.

You might also request that a therapist walk you through a technique called “flooding.” Rather than gradual exposure to your fears, flooding involves facing them head-on. Aversion therapy, which involves developing a negative association with harmful habits, is also a common behavioral therapy technique.  

Behavioral therapy can be helpful for dealing with issues such as (but not limited to):

  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Phobias
  • Bipolar disorder

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

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Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is similar to behavioral therapy, but it addresses mental thought patterns instead of behavioral patterns. This type of therapy can involve exploring and challenging negative thought patterns. By examining toxic or irrational beliefs you might hold about yourself or life in general, it’s possible to learn to change them.

CBT also focuses on helping you develop improved emotional regulation and healthy coping strategies to use when you face trying situations. Some of the main ideas behind this approach are that:

  • Some types of mental health issues, such as depression, substance abuse disorders or anxiety disorders, are fueled by persistent faulty or negative thought patterns.
  • These types of unhelpful thought patterns have been learned and ingrained over time.
  • With therapy, you can replace them with healthier thought patterns and coping strategies that can help you learn to deal with problems in more constructive ways.

CBT is an effective approach for facing your fears, identifying unhelpful thought patterns and learning to redesign your own thought process. CBT can be helpful for dealing with issues such as (but not limited to):

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Marital problems

Humanistic Therapy

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Humanistic therapists focus more on each patient as an individual with their own unique life experiences, rather than attempting to categorize them with a similar group of people who seem to share the same traits. The humanistic approach also relies heavily on the idea that people are basically good and can achieve their full potential through a process called self-actualization.

Therapists help direct their clients towards finding out what motivates them as an individual and what unique distinct needs and desires drive them. Rather than focusing on a person’s past or subconscious mind, the humanistic approach promotes the idea of free will and using it to better your own life. Some of the techniques used by humanistic therapists include:

  • Gestalt therapy: Gestalt therapy helps identify past unresolved issues, with an emphasis on how they’re still affecting you now. The goal is to allow patients to take ownership of their past and choose how they respond to it in the present.
  • Person-centered therapy: Person-centered therapy is based on the idea that each person sees the world in a unique way. While the therapist can guide a patient towards expressing their own world view, they’re not there to judge or even offer interpretations. The therapist is more like a guide who can help you find your own truth.
  • Existential therapy: This type of approach takes the human condition into account as a whole. It focuses on helping you find greater meaning by using your free will, individuality and capabilities to achieve your aspirations.

Humanistic therapy can be helpful for dealing with issues such as (but not limited to):

  • Relationship difficulties
  • Trauma
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Strengthening coping skills
  • Gaining self-confidence and self-acceptance

Finding the Right Type of Therapy for You

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When seeking out a new therapist, it can be helpful to start by asking yourself what you hope to achieve. If you want to explore how issues in your past may still be subconsciously affecting you today, then trying out the psychoanalytical approach could prove beneficial for you.

If you’re less concerned with the past and are more focused on figuring out how to break certain behavioral or mental patterns that are causing you problems in the present moment, then behavioral therapy or CBT may be ideal approaches. Perhaps you’re feeling stuck and are looking for your life’s purpose or for ways to achieve your true potential. In this case, a humanistic therapist may help you.

After getting to know you, a therapist can recommend the mode of treatment they feel will help you best. Keep in mind that some therapists use a variety of techniques and approaches and that if you don’t feel like your first choice is a good fit, you can always choose to work with someone else. The most important thing is to find a therapist whom you feel comfortable with and who’s dedicated to helping you achieve your personal goals.

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