The Ultimate Guide to Psychotherapy
Updated: Mar 15
The Complete and General Guide to Common Types of Psychotherapy Styles: Everything You Need to Know
This is a brief but complete guide to common types of psychotherapy practiced in the counselling field. This post is designed to help you gain a clear understanding of each counselling theory. You can use this information to educate yourself and navigate the skill-sets and services of counselors – everything you need to know to make a more informed decision about your health.
Common Types of Therapy
In this section, you will find brief and general information about:
Therapy styles practiced by counsellors in British Columbia, Canada.
This section does not contain a comprehensive list of all available types of therapy. There are many different types of therapy practiced in the community. Some (not covered here) may not have enough clinical research/evidence to support their mass adoption however they may still be effective for yourself, child or family. If you have questions about a particular style of therapy please contact us directly or ask your therapist.
Trauma Focused Therapy
Trauma-focused therapy is a type of psychotherapy that is designed to help individuals who have experienced traumatic events. The therapy is based on the principle that trauma can have a lasting impact on a person's mental and emotional health, and that targeted interventions are necessary to address the specific effects of trauma.
Trauma-focused therapy typically involves a combination of cognitive and behavioral techniques. The therapist works with the individual to develop coping strategies and build resilience, while also addressing the negative thoughts and feelings that can arise in response to the traumatic event.
One common type of trauma-focused therapy is Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which is designed to help individuals change their negative thoughts and beliefs about the traumatic event. The therapy involves a structured series of sessions that focus on challenging and reframing the individual's negative beliefs, and replacing them with more positive and adaptive thoughts.
Trauma-focused therapy is a powerful approach to psychotherapy that can help individuals overcome the negative effects of traumatic events. The ultimate goal of trauma-focused therapy is to help individuals build resilience and develop a more positive outlook on life, even in the face of significant adversity.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines cognitive and behavioral techniques to help individuals address and overcome negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected, and that changing one can lead to changes in the others. CBT is typically a short-term treatment that can be highly effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In CBT, the therapist works with the individual to identify negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions that contribute to their distress. These may include beliefs such as "I'm not good enough" or "Nobody likes me." Once these patterns are identified, the therapist helps the individual to challenge and reframe those thoughts by using techniques such as cognitive restructuring and thought monitoring. This involves examining the evidence for and against the negative belief, and replacing it with a more realistic and positive one.
In addition to cognitive techniques, CBT also involves behavioral interventions such as exposure therapy and skills training. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the individual to situations or objects that trigger their anxiety, in order to desensitize them and reduce their fear response. Skills training may involve teaching the individual coping skills or relaxation techniques to manage their symptoms.
CBT is a collaborative and structured therapy, with the therapist and individual working together to set specific goals and monitor progress. It is also an evidence-based therapy, with numerous studies supporting its effectiveness in treating a variety of mental health conditions. CBT can be conducted individually or in a group setting, and may be combined with medication or other therapies for best results.
Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that was originally developed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder, but has since been adapted to treat a range of mental health conditions. DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with principles of mindfulness and acceptance, and emphasizes the development of skills for managing intense emotions, improving relationships, and regulating behavior.
DBT is based on the idea that individuals with emotional dysregulation have difficulty tolerating distress and using effective coping strategies. The therapy focuses on building four key skill sets: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment, while distress tolerance focuses on developing skills to tolerate distress without resorting to harmful behaviors. Emotion regulation involves identifying and managing intense emotions, and interpersonal effectiveness involves improving communication and relationships.
DBT is typically delivered in a group setting, with individual therapy sessions also provided as needed. Group sessions involve a combination of skills training and support, with participants encouraged to practice their new skills in daily life. In addition to group sessions, individual therapy focuses on applying the skills to specific personal challenges and goals.
DBT is an evidence-based therapy with numerous studies supporting its effectiveness in treating borderline personality disorder, as well as other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. The therapy is has a focus on developing practical skills that can be used in daily life. DBT is often used in conjunction with medication and other treatments, and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual.
Mindfulness Based Therapies
Mindfulness-based therapies are a group of therapeutic interventions that incorporate mindfulness practices into the treatment of mental health conditions. These therapies are based on the principles of mindfulness, which involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment or distraction. Mindfulness-based therapies are typically used to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
One of the most well-known mindfulness-based therapies is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. MBSR is an eight-week program that teaches individuals how to cultivate mindfulness through practices such as meditation, body scans, and mindful movement. The goal of MBSR is to help individuals develop a more compassionate and non-judgmental relationship with their thoughts and emotions, which can help to reduce stress and improve mental health.
Another mindfulness-based therapy is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which was developed to treat depression. MBCT combines elements of cognitive therapy with mindfulness practices, and is designed to help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to depression. The therapy involves eight weekly group sessions, with participants learning mindfulness techniques such as breath awareness and body scanning, as well as cognitive techniques such as cognitive restructuring and behavioral activation.
Other mindfulness-based therapies include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which emphasizes acceptance of difficult emotions and values-based action, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which incorporates mindfulness into a structured treatment program for individuals with borderline personality disorder.
Mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions, and are often used in combination with other treatments such as medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapies have a focus on developing practical skills that can be used in daily life.
Somatic (Body-Based) Therapies
Somatic body-based therapies are a group of therapeutic interventions that focus on the connection between the mind and body. These therapies recognize that experiences such as trauma and stress can become stored in the body, leading to physical symptoms and psychological distress. By addressing the body and its sensations, somatic therapies aim to help individuals release and process these stored experiences, promoting healing and well-being.
One example of a somatic body-based therapy is Somatic Experiencing (SE), which was developed by Dr. Peter Levine. SE involves helping individuals to become more aware of their body sensations, and to process any sensations related to trauma or stress in a safe and supportive environment. The therapy involves gentle movements and postures, and is designed to help individuals release tension and stored energy from the body.
Another example of a somatic body-based therapy is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, which was developed by Dr. Pat Ogden. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy focuses on the connection between the mind, body, and environment, and aims to help individuals identify and change patterns of behavior that are linked to past experiences. The therapy involves mindfulness techniques, body awareness exercises, and the use of movement and touch to promote healing.
Other somatic body-based therapies include Hakomi, which combines mindfulness, body awareness, and gentle touch to promote healing, and Body-Mind Centering, which focuses on the developmental movement patterns of the body.
Somatic body-based therapies can be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These therapies are typically structured and time-limited, with a focus on developing practical skills that can be used in daily life.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a type of therapy that is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions. The therapy was developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s, and has since been used to treat a range of mental health conditions.
EMDR involves a structured eight-phase process that includes an assessment of the individual's history and symptoms, development of coping skills, and the use of bilateral stimulation techniques such as eye movements, tapping, or sounds. During the therapy, the individual recalls traumatic memories while simultaneously focusing on the bilateral stimulation, which is thought to help process the memory and reduce distress.
One of the key components of EMDR is the use of "dual attention," which involves focusing on both the traumatic memory and the present moment, using bilateral stimulation to create a back-and-forth movement of attention. This is thought to help the individual process the traumatic memory in a safe and controlled environment, leading to reduced distress and improved functioning.
EMDR has been found to be effective in treating PTSD, as well as other conditions such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. The therapy is typically delivered in a one-on-one setting, and may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication and talk therapy. EMDR is often used as a time-limited therapy, with the number of sessions depending on the individual's specific needs and goals.
While the exact mechanisms of EMDR are not fully understood, research suggests that the therapy may work by helping to reprocess traumatic memories, reducing the emotional charge associated with the memory and allowing the individual to move forward with greater ease and resiliency.
Behavior therapy, also known as behavior modification, is a type of therapy that focuses on changing undesirable behaviors by reinforcing positive actions and extinguishing negative ones. It is based on the principle of 'behaviorism', which suggest that behavior is learned through the interaction between an individual and their environment. Behavior therapy aims to identify the environmental factors that contribute to the problematic behavior and then change them to produce more desirable outcomes.
Behavior therapy can be used to treat a wide range of psychological conditions, including anxiety disorders, phobias, depression, and substance abuse. This therapy usually involves setting clear goals for how the desired behavior will change then identifying triggers or antecedents that lead to the problematic behavior and finally, implementing interventions to modify the behavior. These interventions may include techniques such as positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, extinction, and punishment.
Positive reinforcement involves providing a reward or positive consequence for a desired behavior, such as giving praise or a token for completing a task. Negative reinforcement involves removing an aversive stimulus, such as a loud noise, when the desired behavior is exhibited. Extinction involves removing the reinforcement that was previously maintaining the problematic behavior, such as ignoring attention-seeking behavior. Punishment involves providing a negative consequence for a problematic behavior, such as a time-out or loss of privileges.
Behavior therapy is typically short-term treatment which can be conducted in individual or group settings. The therapy is often goal-oriented and structured, with clear objectives and progress tracking. The effectiveness of behavior therapy has been supported by research, and it is considered a evidence-based treatment for many psychological disorders.
Emotion Focused Therapy
Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on emotions and their role in human experience and well-being. The therapy was developed by Dr. Leslie Greenberg and Dr. Sue Johnson in the 1980s and 1990s, and has since been used to treat a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.
EFT begins with an exploration of the individual's emotional experiences and how they relate to current concerns. The therapy focuses on helping individuals understand and express their emotions in a safe and supportive environment, and on developing skills for regulating emotions and managing distress.
One of the key components of EFT is the use of 'empathic attunement', which involves the therapist tuning in to the individual's emotional experience and reflecting it back to them in a supportive and non-judgmental way. This helps the individual feel understood and validated, and allows for deeper exploration of emotional experiences.
EFT also involves the use of techniques such as emotion labeling, emotion validation, and emotion regulation to help individuals develop greater emotional awareness and regulation skills. The therapy may also involve the use of imagery and role-playing exercises to help individuals explore and process emotions.
EFT is often used to treat relationship issues, as it helps individuals understand and express emotions related to their relationships, and develop more effective communication and problem-solving skills. The therapy is typically delivered in a one-on-one or couple setting, and may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication and talk therapy.
Overall, EFT is a powerful approach to therapy that helps individuals develop greater emotional awareness and regulation skills, leading to improved well-being and greater relational satisfaction.
Family therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on improving communication and resolving conflicts within a family system. The therapy is based on the idea that families are interconnected and that individual problems are often rooted in family dynamics and relationships.
Family therapy involves the participation of all family members, and typically takes place in a group setting. The therapist works with the family to identify patterns of behavior and communication that are contributing to the presenting issue, and to develop strategies for addressing these patterns in a more positive and productive way.
One of the key components of family therapy is the exploration of family roles and relationships. The therapist may use techniques such as genograms (family trees) or mapping exercises to help the family better understand their interconnectedness and the underlying patterns of behavior that are contributing to the presenting issue.
Family therapy may be used to address a range of issues, including communication problems, conflict resolution, parenting issues, and substance abuse. The therapy may also be used to support families coping with a major life change or illness.Family therapy is typically a time-limited therapy, with the number of sessions depending on the specific needs of the family. The therapy may involve a combination of individual and family sessions, and may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication and individual therapy.
Family therapy is a powerful approach to improving family dynamics and resolving conflicts, leading to greater family harmony and improved individual well-being.
Group therapy is a form of therapy that involves a small group of individuals meeting regularly to discuss and explore their feelings, experiences, and behaviors. The therapy is led by a trained therapist and offers a supportive and non-judgmental environment for individuals to connect with others who are experiencing similar issues.
Group therapy is based on the principle that individuals can benefit from the support and feedback of others who have shared experiences. The group setting allows individuals to share their experiences and gain insight and feedback from others, helping them to develop greater self-awareness and coping skills.
Group therapy may be used to address a range of issues, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and relationship problems. The therapy may also be used to support individuals coping with a major life change or illness.
One of the key benefits of group therapy is the sense of community and connection it provides. The therapy offers individuals the opportunity to connect with others who are experiencing similar issues, reducing feelings of isolation and providing a sense of belonging.
Group therapy typically involves a structured format, with the therapist leading discussions and activities that are designed to help the group explore their issues and develop new coping skills. The therapy may also involve homework assignments and other activities that are designed to help individuals practice and integrate new skills into their daily lives.
Group therapy is a powerful approach to psychotherapy that offers individuals the opportunity to connect with others, gain insight and feedback, and develop new coping skills. The therapy is typically more affordable than individual therapy and may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication and individual therapy.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and resolving interpersonal problems. The therapy is based on the principle that the quality of our relationships has a significant impact on our mental health and well-being.
IPT is typically a short-term therapy, with treatment typically lasting between 12-16 sessions. The therapy involves the exploration of current interpersonal relationships and how they are contributing to the presenting issue. The therapist works with the individual to identify patterns of behavior and communication that are causing distress, and to develop strategies for improving relationships and resolving conflicts.
One of the key components of IPT is the focus on communication and problem-solving skills. The therapist may use role-playing exercises and other techniques to help the individual practice new communication skills and develop more effective problem-solving strategies. IPT may be used to address a range of issues, including depression, anxiety, grief, and relationship problems. The therapy may also be used to support individuals coping with major life changes such as a divorce or job loss.
IPT helps individuals develop more effective communication and problem-solving skills, leading to improved interpersonal relationships and greater well-being.
Play therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses play and other creative activities to help children express themselves and process their emotions. This therapy is based on the principle that play is a natural means of communication for children, and that it can be used as a tool to help them work through emotional and behavioral issues.
Play therapy is typically conducted in a playroom that is equipped with a variety of toys and other creative materials. The therapist works with the child to create a safe and supportive environment that encourages them to express themselves freely and explore their emotions. The therapist may use a variety of play-based techniques, including art, music, storytelling, and role-playing, to help the child process their emotions and develop more effective coping skills. The therapy may also involve the use of structured games and activities that are designed to address specific emotional or behavioral issues.
Play therapy may be used to address a range of issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma, and behavioral problems. The therapy may also be used to support children coping with major life changes such as divorce or a move.
One of the key benefits of play therapy is that it allows children to express themselves in a non-verbal way, which can be especially helpful for younger children or those who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. The therapy also provides children with a safe and supportive environment where they can work through their emotions without fear of judgment or criticism.
Play therapy helps children express themselves, process their emotions, and develop more effective coping skills.
Narrative Focused Therapy
Narrative-focused therapy is a type of therapy that is based on the principle that people construct their understanding of the world and their experiences through the stories they tell themselves and others. This therapy is designed to help individuals recognize and change the negative stories they tell themselves, and to develop more positive and empowering narratives.
The therapist works with the individual to explore the stories they tell themselves about their experiences, relationships, and life in general. The therapy involves a collaborative process of inquiry, in which the therapist helps the individual identify the dominant themes in their stories, and encourages them to explore alternative narratives that might better serve them.
One key goal of narrative-focused therapy is to help individuals recognize the ways in which their negative stories are limiting their ability to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. The therapy helps individuals develop new and more empowering narratives that allow them to overcome these limitations, and to live in a more positive and resilient way.
Narrative-focused therapy is often used to address a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and trauma. The therapy may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication and talk therapy, and is typically delivered in a one-on-one or small group setting.
Narrative-focused therapy helps individuals develop more positive and empowering stories about their lives. The therapy can help individuals overcome negative thought patterns, build resilience, and develop a more positive outlook on life.