In modern medicine, the best medicine is often targeted to a specific condition or audience. So, too, is the best therapy. Each type of psychological therapy also has a list of necessary skills.
There is not a single “psychotherapy,” but several subtypes. There is one-on-one therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, and a variety of theory-based approaches that all culminate in this larger umbrella term.
As a patient, what that means is your therapy will depend on your observed behaviors, feelings, goals, and specific set of circumstances that lead to a diagnosis. As a practitioner or student? That means exploring where your strengths lay and what sparks interest in an ever-growing field that continues to learn more about the most effective way to treat people living with mental illness or experiencing stress.
But let’s start with the basics and what sets each type of therapy apart from its peers.
What is Psychotherapy?
In Ancient Greece, psychotherapy—though, certainly referred to in other words at the time—was heralded as “care of the soul.” Today, its perception is a bit more complicated.
Since the 18th century, societies have discussed what psychotherapy really means. To some, it is a means to conceive the self. To others, it is a pseudo-religious practice. And more still, it is a tool to better self-regulate—which, perhaps, leans closer to how it is viewed in the 21st century.
Which is to say, it is a healing practice initiated through talk and expression.
Psychotherapy, and specifically talk therapy, is one psychology-based way to treat behavioral problems, mental health disorders, and sorting through emotional stressors common to us all—life transitions, traumatic experiences, unwanted habits. Psychotherapists today are trained to treat clinical diagnoses like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. Patients or clients see their therapist regularly for at least 50 minutes, though this varies by need.
A psychotherapist is prepared for these situational interactions through in-depth education and residency programs. They are typically doctors—MD, Ph.D., or EdS—who are studied in the theories of psychology and biological basis of some conditions, allowing them flexibility whether they treat someone with an eating disorder, a substance abuse problem, chronic pain, or anxiety.
Different Types of Psychological Therapy
Because there is such a wide range of problems that patients bring to the chair, there is no singular approach to treatment. After all, one individual may show up with binge-eating struggles while the next is experiencing the ripple effects of a heated divorce. The result is a series of therapeutic approaches that can be applied to different situations. And, as such, therapists need to be equipped not so much with a scalpel or a knife, but a multitool.
A few of the different types of therapy in psychology:
- Psychodynamic therapy. This is a common form of talk therapy employed to highlight patterns and hidden meanings. Patients are encouraged to discuss emotions and thoughts that might reveal unconscious meaning behind behaviors, determined over a course of time that can be short- or long-term. Long-term psychoanalysis traditionally spans a period of years but is less common in today’s practice. This is considered a modified form of the theories of Sigmund Freud, who was active in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and is popularly credited with founding psychoanalysis.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. Commonly referred to as CBT, this therapeutic approach acknowledges learned behaviors. Further, cognitive behavioral therapy explores how creating new patterns can eliminate problematic behaviors, like smoking or phobias. Some of these actions involve alterations in thinking—recognizing and eliminating harmful thoughts like “It’s my fault” or “I’m not good enough”—and targeted responses to their occurrence, like deep-breathing techniques to mitigate the symptoms of anxiety. It’s also, notably, the form of therapy where “desensitizing” occurs, which is the repeated exposure of the source of a phobia to a client to lessen adverse effects during exposure and, ultimately, eliminate the phobia. Cognitive behavioral therapy, moreover, is another common therapy applied to anxiety, which affects 40 million American adults each year.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy. This is concerned with how relationships with others allow illness to surface. Think: a bereavement, romantic relationship problems, or the role-transition effects of a physical illness. It is typically completed in a matter of months—like cognitive behavioral therapy, it is considered time-limited—and is used to treat mood disorders. It is especially useful in patients who suffer from a drug-resistant form of depression and has become increasingly understood as a form of interdisciplinary psychotherapy in recent years.
- Cognitive analytical therapy. This is a hybrid approach to therapy—again, a multitool over a knife or scalpel—that encourages experimental interventions to a behavioral problem while also exploring its roots through psychodynamic therapy. But, like cognitive behavioral therapy, the primary exploration is how problematic thoughts lead to the undesired behavior. This is based on the foundation of work by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist regarded as the father of cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Humanistic therapies. These are empowering forms of therapy that highlight the power of choices. These are therapeutic approaches that were influenced by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Austrian Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, and Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard. Therapies based on their principles emphasize being present, personal responsibility, and free will. The role of the therapist in this dynamic is also considered less authoritative and the therapy is more holistic.
Underpinning many of these approaches are variants to talk therapy that incorporate music and art, meant to reveal subconscious thoughts through the process of making or, in the case of music, receptive listening. Psychological therapy has evolved over time, adapting to the many needs of people around the world.
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at National University
National University’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program sets the foundation for entering the field of psychology, introducing core concepts of psychology that lend well to an eventual advanced degree. Included in the curriculum is information regarding the types of therapy in clinical psychology and, more largely, the types of psychology in counseling and therapy used more broadly by professions ranging from psychiatry to social work.
The program at National University offers aspiring psychologists the tools to start their journey on an inspiring, interdisciplinary, and intellectually challenging career field.