If you’re new to therapy, you might assume all therapy looks the same: You sit across from a therapist and talk about your problems. In reality, there are numerous types of therapy you may encounter. Your therapist may tell you upfront what approach they’re using, or they might not. Some therapists specialize in a specific type, while others may use a “blended” approach to adapt to the needs of the client.
“I’m a big believer that [therapy] is patient-directed or client-directed,” says Cara Maksimow, LCSW. “When somebody comes in wanting to work on a specific issue, that’s going to be the treatment plan.”
It’s a good idea to ask your therapist during the first session what therapy approach they like to use. This can help you figure out if this therapist is the right fit for you.
Psychotherapy is “talk therapy.” There are some specific types of psychotherapy that are popular today, including:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT: This approach focuses on dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to unwanted behaviors. The goal is to help you recognize distorted thinking. Then, you can reframe your thoughts and change your actions.
Psychodynamic therapy: This approach helps you consider how your past life events and relationships may affect your current feelings and choices. It can help you become more aware of “trouble spots” in your life that are holding you back.
Exposure therapy: This is a treatment for anxiety disorders, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and phobias. It helps “expose” the patient to the thing they fear in a safe environment.
Group therapy: In this approach, a group of individuals with a shared problem meet with one or more psychologists. This setup allows them to work through their common problems together. It can also help reduce shame about their illness, build a network, and develop social skills.
It might be useful to do some basic research before looking for therapists or meeting with one. The recommended therapy approach may differ depending on your needs. For example, if you are struggling with OCD, you might benefit from a therapist who specializes in exposure therapy or CBT. If you want to get better at expressing your feelings or being more aware of your thoughts and triggers, you may benefit from psychodynamic therapy.
If you’re not sure, meet with a therapist and tell them what you’re struggling with. Many may be honest with you if they think they are not the best fit for you, depending on your needs. They may also be able to recommend the best therapy approach for you.
Whichever you choose, find out what to expect at your first therapy session here.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Psychotherapy: understanding group therapy.
American Psychological Association. (2017). What is exposure therapy?
American Psychological Association. (2009). Different approaches to psychotherapy.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2011). Types of psychotherapy.
For additional resources or to connect with mental health services in your area, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. For immediate assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
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