15 Common Types Of Therapy And How To Know Which You Need

A beginner's guide to therapy.

woman in therapy with therapist Iryna Imago / Shutterstock

Let's face it, life can be messy and we all need to lean on other people. But our friends aren't therapists, and venting to them can only accomplish so much.

There's no shame in getting professional mental health help. Sometimes talking to someone who is trained to be an empathetic, non-judgmental ear is the best way to work through your troubles.

You might seek therapy for a number of reasons, so knowing which types of therapy are available, as well as from which types of therapists, Is key when choosing the best option for you.


Therapy can help support you through any number of issues, conditions or concerns, including depression, anxiety, loss, life transitions, identity issues, relationship problems, phobias or substance abuse — just to name a few.

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Navigating the variety of therapuetic choices available can be confusing, so we broke down the basic information about 15 common types of therapy to help you choose the right therapist for your particular mental health needs.

15 Types of Therapy and Different Types of Therapists Who Offer Each

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of talk therapy that was originally designed to treat depression. It is based on the idea that your thoughts and feelings lead to your behaviors.

How cognitive behavioral therapy works: In CBT, clients work with a therapist to identify their negative thoughts in order to disrupt harmful thought-feeling-behavior chains.

The goal of CBT is to help clients cope more effectively with unhelpful thoughts and cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking and personalization.


Therapists may assign worksheets or other "homework" to help clients work through their thoughts.

Conditions and issues CBT may treat: Eating disorders, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders and agoraphobia.

Types of therapists who can provide CBT: Any licensed clinical therapists, counselors, or social workers who are trained in CBT can provide cognitive behavioral therapy.


2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Originally developed to help those with borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT is a methodology centered around four skills: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.

How dialectical behavior therapy works: "Dialectical" relates to opposing ideas, so DBT focuses on challenging black and white thinking and allowing clients to hold two seemingly opposite truths in their minds at the same time.

For example, someone with an eating disorder may hate their body, but they can maintain their recovery and take care of themselves at the same time.

Many DBT therapists and therapy programs use workbooks to help clients practice the four skill areas, which include meditation exercises, tips for handling stressful emotions and guides for navigating difficult conversations.


Conditions and issues DBT may treat: Borderline personality disorder, addiction, mood disorders (including depression), suicidal ideation, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.

Types of therapists who can provide DBT: There are entire mental health treatment centers that practice DBT, as well as individual therapists and counselors who are trained in the modality.

RELATED: What People Get Right — And Decidedly Wrong — About Borderline Personality Disorder


3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Unlike most talk therapy, EMDR focuses on the emotions surrounding trauma rather than the event itself. The bilateral stimulation from the eye movement component helps the brain process trauma.

How EMDR works: An EMDR therapist uses a hand motion to guide a client's eye movement from side to side while they are processing a traumatic event.

The goal is for clients to eventually be able to think of such events without experiencing negative feelings and replace them with positive emotions instead.

EMDR has eight stages: history and treatment planning, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure and re-evaluation.


Conditions and issues EMDR may treat: PTSD, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, phobias and schizophrenia.

Types of therapists who can provide EMDR: Therapists, counselors and social workers who are certified in EMDR.

4. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Similar to CBT, MBCT incorporates meditation and breathing exercises (part of mindfulness) to help clients break out of negative thought patterns.


How mindfulness-based cognitive therapy works: MBCT is typically used in a group therapy setting. It incorporates meditations and breathing exercises, as well as mental health education.

Participants may be assigned "homework" to practice mindfulness skills outside of therapy.

Conditions and issues MBCT may treat: Depression, anxiety and addiction.


Types of therapists who can provide MBCT: Any therapist, counselor, or social worker who is trained in MBCT.

5. Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is Sigmund Freud's brainchild and the type of therapy you commonly see depicted in pop culture. It involves exploration of childhood memories, dream analysis, transference and theories of attachment.

Sandra Cohen, Ph.D. recommends psychoanalysis for a range of issues.

"Maybe you’re depressed, stuck in a rut, too anxious, don’t like yourself, or can’t find a good love relationship," Dr. Cohen says. "Maybe you’ve noticed that you keep repeating the same situations and don’t know why. Maybe you’ve even tried other therapies. If any of this is true, psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a great option."


How psychoanalysis works: Psychoanalysis is a type of talk therapy that addresses early childhood memories. Therapists guide the session with word association and dream analysis.

Psychoanalysis also touches on transference, or the way emotions toward one person may be transferred onto another.

Conditions and issues psychoanalysis may treat: Depression, emotional trauma, relationship issues and personality disorders.


Types of therapists who can provide psychoanalysis: Therapists trained in a psychoanalytic approach.

RELATED: The Most Important Questions To Ask In Order To Find The Right Therapist

6. Psychodynamic Therapy

Similar to psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapy is a holistic therapy that looks at all aspects of a client's life, including their fears, fantasies, hopes and needs.

How psychodynamic therapy works: Psychodynamic therapy is an in-depth talk therapy where clients are encouraged to speak about whatever comes to mind.

The focus is on identifying repressed emotions in order to change one's behavior and improve relationships.

Conditions and issues psychodynamic therapy may treat: Depression, social anxiety, addiction and eating disorders.


Types of therapists who can provide psychodynamic therapy: Therapists trained in a psychodynamic approach.

7. Family Therapy

Family therapy looks at the family as a unit and operates on the idea that each family member's mental health impacts the rest of the family.

How family therapy works: In family therapy, a therapist will help facilitate or mediate conversations between family members.

Conditions and issues family therapy may treat: Addiction, eating disorders, depression, schizophrenia, grief, parent-child conflict and behavioral issues.


Types of therapists who can provide family therapy: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) and other licensed mental health professionals.

8. Group Therapy

Group therapy may incorporate CBT, DBT, MBCT, or a number of other types of therapy modalities.

How group therapy works: Group therapy is facilitated by a therapist who encourages members to offer each other feedback and support. Group therapy is different from support group meetings in that support groups do not have to be led by a licensed mental health professional.

You can find group therapy in a hospital setting, residential treatment program, or outpatient mental health clinic. Therapists in your area may also offer group therapy through their private practices.


Conditions and issues group therapy may treat: Addiction, depression, eating disorders and bipolar disorder.

Types of therapists who can provide group therapy: Any therapist or counselor who was been trained to work with groups can facilitate group therapy sessions.

9. Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is what it sounds like — therapy you attend as a couple.


This type of therapy can help you work through relationship issues or learn better communication and conflict resolution skills in order to prevent future problems.

How couples therapy works: In a couples therapy session, the therapist acts as a third party who provides insight into the relationship, facilitates and mediates conversations and helps a couple work toward solutions for conflict.

Conditions and issues couples therapy may treat: Loss of trust, infidelity, sexual dysfunction and resentment.


Types of therapists who can provide couples therapy: Licensed Marriage and Family therapists (LMFTs) and other licensed mental health professionals.

RELATED: 7 Things You Need To Know About Couples Counseling

10. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an action-oriented type of therapy focused on accepting feelings and then committing to change. Running from your problems and denying your emotions won't get you anywhere; ACT will help you move forward.

How acceptance and commitment therapy works: Acceptance and Commitment therapy teaches you that suppressing your emotions is harmful and helps you commit to making positive changes by challenging your negative self-talk and changing old behavior patterns that no longer serve you.


ACT consists of six parts: acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values and committed action.

Conditions and issues acceptance and commitment therapy may treat: Stress, test anxiety, social anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and psychosis.

Types of therapists who can provide acceptance and commitment therapy: Any therapist, counselor, or social worker trained in ACT.


11. Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is a form of positive psychology based on humanism that centers around clients' unique worldviews.

How humanistic therapy works: Humanistic therapy is a person-centered talk therapy that focuses on the client's day-to-day life. The treatment is not focused on a specific diagnosis, but rather on the feelings the client is experiencing in the present moment.

Humanistic therapists take a holistic approach and treat each client as a unique individual while guiding them on a path to self-actualization, self-acceptance and fulfillment.

Conditions and issues humanistic therapy may treat: Depression, anxiety, panic disorders, addiction, schizophrenia, personality disorders, relationship issues and low self-esteem.


Types of therapists who can provide humanistic therapy: Any licensed therapist/counselor who uses a humanistic approach.

12. Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animals have healing powers. Animal-assisted therapy can make a world of a difference for those who have difficulty connecting or struggle with emotional stability.

Dogs, cats, pigs, horses and even birds can all offer a therapeutic animal bond.

How animal-assisted therapy works: Animal-assisted therapy can augment regular therapy. This might mean bringing a therapy dog or cat into your usual therapy sessions.

AAT can also be a separate session in which you go to a facility for the purpose of interacting with therapy animals.


Conditions and issues animal-assisted therapy may treat: Autism-related issues, depression, schizophrenia, addiction, social issues and PTSD.

Types of therapists who can provide animal-assisted therapy: Some therapists have licensed therapy animals in their offices, others work on farms or horse ranches, or in inpatient settings. You can also adopt your own therapy pet to have with you at all times or during therapy sessions.

13. Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotion-focused therapy, also referred to as emotionally focused therapy when used to address issues in relationships, focuses on "the role of emotion in psychotherapeutic change." This approach emphasizes the importance of becoming aware of, acknowledging and understanding one's emotions in order to better manage them and, in doing so, create meaningful change.


How EFT works: Emotion-focused therapy consists of three stages: de-escalating, restructuring and consolidation.

It is all about learning to change patterns by listening and getting in tune with one another's and one's own emotions.

Conditions and issues EFT may treat: Anger, fear, betrayal, loss of trust and illness.


Types of therapists who can provide EFT: LMFTs and other licensed mental health professionals trained in attachment theory and EFT.

RELATED: Emotionally Focused Therapy Can Save Your Relationship

14. Creative Arts Therapy

Creative expression is a healthy emotional outlet, but it can also be a part of your therapy. Drama, visual arts, music, dance and poetry can all be powerful tools in your mental health treatment.


How creative arts therapy works: The idea behind creative arts therapy is to allow you to process trauma and emotions in an alternate way. Art can help you tell a story that you otherwise might not be able to share in traditional talk therapy.

You don't have to consider yourself an artist to benefit from creative arts therapy; you just have to be willing to participate through whatever medium you choose.

Conditions and issues creative arts therapy may treat: PTSD, anxiety, depression, addiction and eating disorders.


Types of therapists who can provide creative arts therapy: Licensed art therapists, music therapists and drama therapists.

RELATED: How Poetry Therapy Can Heal Your Heart, Mind, And Soul

15. Brainspotting Therapy

Brainspotting operates on the idea that where you look affects how you feel. This is because our visual field is connected to the part of our brain that processes emotions.

How brainspotting therapy works: During a brainspotting session, a therapist will take note of where a client is looking as they share a story. That point serves as an anchor for processing.

The client may be asked to share any feelings or sensations that come up for them while they focus on the anchor. Clients are not obligated to share the details of what they are processing.


Brainspotting can be incorporated into any talk therapy session and often works well with CBT.

Conditions and issues brainspotting therapy may treat: PTSD, eating disorders, anxiety, attention issues, anger issues, phobias, substance abuse, chronic fatigue or pain and physical injuries (often sports-related).

Types of therapists who can provide brainspotting therapy: Any therapist, counselor, or social worker who is trained in brainspotting.


How to Decide Which Type of Therapy is Right for You

Starting therapy can be daunting. As with dating, you might have to shop around for a while before you find the perfect fit that works for you.

When choosing a type of therapy and therapist, consider the issue of issues you are struggling with, how you like to express yourself (i.e. are you a visual person?) and the communities you belong to (LGBTQ+ folks might feel more comfortable with queer-affirming therapists).

You can also read about other's experiences of each therapy type to find out what resonates with you.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Gestalt Therapist Christine Vargo suggests looking to your most pressing needs when choosing a type of therapy.


"When a person reaches the moment of recognizing and surrendering to the reality that support is warranted in their life so they can move forward, the first step is to identify their most present need," she says.

"What is the pattern of behaviors or experiences they've had that is keeping them from living the life they want to live?" Vargo continues. "The parts of us that are feeling the most pain are the parts that need the most love and connection. Once we identify what needs the most love, we can choose a therapy approach that serves that need best."

Therapy should challenge you, but it should also be a safe space where you feel comfortable and confident that the therapist can meet you where you are in your mental health journey.

Try two or three sessions with a therapist before deciding whether or not to continue seeing them.


If you are struggling with your mental health, support is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts at 1-800-273-8255.

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Kristen Pizzo is a freelance writer who covers everything from relationships and personal development to celebrity news. More of her work can be found on Medium.