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The 101 Guide to Types of Therapy

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There are few things as important as taking care of the mental health of ourselves and our loved ones. But taking those first steps in that process can be confusing and a bit daunting. Finding the right therapist for you is important, but it also may be helpful to have an idea of what kind of therapy you are looking for.

Not all therapies or psychotherapists are the same. While all therapists undergo significant education and training, many specialize in specific treatment techniques and approaches. Depending on the struggles you’re dealing with, you’ll probably need a specific type of therapy in order to benefit the most.

There are so many specialties out there; you may not even know where to begin. Here we’ll outline some of the main types to get you started.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Many types of therapy deal with the connection between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT as it is often referred to is based on the cognitive model that our thoughts and perceptions influence the way we feel and behave.

The theory behind CBT is that our thoughts and perceptions are often faulty or distorted and therefore the feelings and behaviors we have in response to those thoughts are unhelpful and oftentimes self-defeating. In CBT, the goal is to identify patterns of faulty thinking and replace them with more balanced or rational thoughts that ultimately lead to changes in behavior that can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most widely researched therapy and has a slew of scientific data to support its use in the most commonly occurring mental health problems including:

  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • bipolar disorder
  • eating disorders
  • schizophrenia

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a third-wave psychotherapy. Third-wave psychotherapies focus on the development of psychological and behavioral processes that promote overall health and well-being and not simply symptom reduction. Like cognitive-behavioral therapy, acceptance, and commitment therapy focuses on becoming aware of one’s thoughts. However, in this approach, clients also practice mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. While cognitive-behavioral therapy is more skills-based, acceptance and commitment therapy is more process-oriented.

The goal is to develop “psychological flexibility” and become familiar with answering the core four questions:

  1. What do I value?
  2. What is pulling or pushing me away from my values?
  3. What action do I need to take now to move closer to my values?
  4. How do I continue to move toward my values in the future?

Meditation and Contemplative Practices

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) are two widely used and studied therapy approaches that put the development of mindfulness skills front and center.

According to WebMD, meditation has been an area that continues to be studied thoroughly with numerous clinical trials. These types of therapy practices are known to focus on relaxation and mindfulness as a way for patients to control their emotional regulation naturally. The result is significantly improved mental health.

One 2016 study found that it is especially effective at developing an adaptive response to daily stressors. Another 2016 study found that a brief mindfulness training helped participants who struggled with depression reduce their symptoms through improved emotional regulation.

Overall, the scientific evidence available supports the idea that meditation and contemplative practices are successful tools for helping the following conditions:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure

Marriage and Family Therapy

Like the name, Marriage and Family Therapy is centered on family dynamics and focused on working to achieve specific goals and address problems between multiple people. Because it is very goal-specific, this kind of therapy is short-term. The amount of time can vary depending on the type of issues that are being dealt with.

In either case, while the therapist will often meet with either the couple or family altogether, it isn’t uncommon to have some solo sessions with each individual so their therapist can better understand each person’s point of view.

The issues a family or couple could bring to these kinds of sessions could range anywhere from dealing with divorce-related issues to any kind of mental health scenario that is impacting the family in some way. For example, A 2019 study found that family therapy was significantly helpful for families with adolescents dealing with mental health issues.

While there are many approaches to these types of therapy, when it comes to couples and marriage counseling, The Gottman Method is very effective and highly recommended.

The approach’s overall goal is to:

  • Improve verbal communication
  • Remove barriers to conflict resolution
  • Increase intimacy
  • Increase respect
  • Increase affection
  • Create more empathy and compassion within their relationships

Play Therapy

Play therapy is designed for children to help them talk about their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. Therapists conduct these sessions with toys and other activities that can help reveal a child’s feelings or experiences as they play.

Often, it can be a slow process because the children need to develop trust in their therapist in the first couple of visits, but overall the therapist will let the child lead the play.

For example, in a 2019 case study, a 7-year-old girl who was experiencing anxiety and sleep issues following the death of her grandma and her father suffering a shoulder injury was observed during play therapy over the course of 12 sessions.

The child would set up a dollhouse with an injured dad doll and role-play as the mother doll. Through this kind of play, the therapist discovered the child was struggling with the lack of attention from her mom as she cared for the injured father and that the child worried something bad would happen to her father if she took too much attention from her mother.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Some types of therapy use physical movements to solicit the response necessary for healing. In this case, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) focuses on a PTSD patient performing specific eye movements while recalling a traumatic event. Through these movements, it is thought that patients can become desensitized by the severely traumatic memories that cause triggered responses.

While it is still heavily researched regarding its effectiveness, many studies have found it is effective in PTSD patients.

Looking for Types of Therapy in Pennsylvania?

Taking a step toward managing better mental health is something to be celebrated and shouldn’t be a scary or stressful process. If you’re located in Pennsylvania, our therapists would love to meet with you to assess your mental health needs and set you up on a plan for the types of therapy you need to be the healthiest, most functional, and most stable version of you.

We are dedicated to serving our patients with individualized care tailored to their specific needs. This is just a tiny sampling of the types of therapy we offer at our clinic, and we would love to go over your options with you to find your best fit for care.