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Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Amanda Kobly M.Ed., Registered Provisional Psychologist


Different Types of Therapy & Approaches in Psychology

PUBLISHED Aug 9th, 2022 & UPDATED ON Dec 4th, 2023

What comes to mind when you think about therapy? Maybe you’re picturing that episode of Euphoria where we got to see Jules’ therapy sesh. Or maybe you’re just picturing yourself lying on a couch in a stuffy office while a psychologist scribbles your struggles on a clipboard. Therapy is definitely better than that second example, because good therapists do way more than just scribble. And your therapy session won’t be the plot line of a TV show episode… so that’s also good.

Therapy was once a taboo subject that few people discussed openly. But mental health has become more normalized in recent years, thanks in large part to the pandemy we have been living in. So whether you’re already seeing a therapist, in the process of finding one, or are just open to the possibility but aren’t sure where to begin, we’ve got you covered! Hi-fives all around!

So, enough babbling: let’s dive thru the different types of therapy! 

Approaches in Psychology

Psychotherapy is provided by mental health experts who have received specialized training, such as psychiatrists (who can prescribe medication), psychologists, and therapists. This sort of therapy can be one-on-one, as a couple or family, or in a group. Psychotherapy can help by giving you a chance to talk through your struggles with someone who is actively listening to you, and provide coping strategies to help make things more manageable. 

Psychotherapy, sometimes known as talk therapy, has four major perspectives:  

Psychoanalysis/ Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychoanalysis was developed by neurologist Sigmund Freud. The idea is that everyone has unconscious thoughts and feelings that impact the way they think, feel, and act. Treatment is usually a series of sessions where the client and therapist talk and try to dig deeper into the why. Psychodynamic therapists support you by addressing patterns in your dreams, feelings, ideas, and early experiences, helping you express yourself and understand your self-identity. 

What distinguishes this therapeutic method is that it focuses on each individual’s experiences and self-awareness. Over time, the person builds long-term coping habits while recognizing how their patterns impact them. 

Psychoanalysis therapy can help with: 

  • Depression 
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety 
  • Panic Disorders 
  • Grief 
  • Eating Disorders

Psychoanalytic therapy does focus on discussing past traumatic experiences, so it can be a lot for people who aren’t ready to do that. In that case, this next type might be a better option. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a short-term therapeutic approach that handles unpleasant emotions such as pain, anxiety, and grief. CBT is based on the idea that psychological problems are largely caused by a cycle of flawed thinking leading to flawed actions. The goal of CBT is to help people cope and correct those flawed thought processes. 

These types of common thinking errors can include: 

  • Filtering (refers to only looking at the negative elements of a situation while filtering out any positive details)
  • Polarized thinking (refers to thinking in a binary or black/white way, either a total success or abject failure)
  • Overgeneralization (assuming one incident constitutes a pattern, like getting a bad grade on a paper and believing you are a bad student who should just drop out)
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Catastrophizing 
  • Personalization (thinking that everything is about you/ your fault)
  • Fallacies of fairness (the idea that the people who work hardest or sacrifice the most will be rewarded fairly) 

CBT helps treat medical conditions like substance-use disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. It’s also the most widely used intervention to improve self-esteem. For example, instead of saying “I’m stupid,” CBT would have you challenge that negative thought and remind yourself of the evidence that it’s not true. Tell yourself “I got into university” or “I helped someone at work with something they didn’t understand,” instead of accepting your negative thought as truth. 

We fully know that those self-reminders can be veeeery hard to, well, remember. CBT is more about developing the skills that will allow you to work through your thoughts. So most of the “work” is done on your own, outside of the therapist’s office. If that sounds like something you would like – great! If not, consider humanistic therapy (which is further down in our list!). 

Exposure Therapy

Almost everyone is scared of something. Maybe it’s spiders, heights, or wide open spaces. Exposure therapy is a process where a therapist helps their client accept or even overcome their fears or triggers. This is done by creating a safe environment to confront the fear. This could mean literally facing your fear, like having a spider in a terrarium for the patient to look at. But it can also be done with some sort of virtual reality, like using a flight simulator to help alleviate flying anxiety. It could also be entirely done using imagination, where the person imagines a traumatic experience and talks their way through it. 

Exposure therapy has a lot of benefits, including the possibility of getting rid of those visceral feelings you have about the trauma or phobia that’s affecting you. However, it’s also a very intense experience, and that can often make things feel significantly worse before they improve. It’s really important to talk this over with a therapist before doing any kind of exposure therapy—do not just google images of your fear to try it by yourself. 

Exposure therapy can start off with some elements of CBT—as you develop the skills you’ll need when you come face-to-face with your trigger. There are a lot of strategies and different paces that exposure therapy can be done at, so don’t expect your therapist to bring a tarantula to your first appointment. Unless it’s Take Your Pet to Work Day or something? They should really give you a heads up, though! 

Exposure therapy can help the following mental health conditions:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Phobias 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety disorders 

Humanistic Therapy 

Humanistic therapy takes the concept that you must be your genuine self to live the life you want to live. Everyone sees the world through their own eyes, and you are the only person who understands your desires, aspirations, and, most importantly, what you want out of life.

Therapists that work with the humanistic approach don’t interpret how you feel. Instead, they work with you by simply accepting you as you are and teaching you to do the same. They support you by actively listening to you and might occasionally ask questions to be clear on what you are saying. For people who aren’t into CBT, humanistic therapy can be a better option because it focuses on adjusting the external factors of your life, instead of the way you think about them. 

Because there’s an inherent power imbalance between therapists and clients, it’s important for your therapist to make you feel like you are equal partners in the process. While they are the experts, if you feel like you’re being condescended to or otherwise looked down upon, you’re not going to want to listen to their advice or even make another appointment… which kinda defeats the whole purpose.  

Humanistic therapy can be used to treat some of the following: 

  • Addiction 
  • Personality Disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Panic Disorders 
  • Schizophrenia

Choosing the Best Approach for You

With so many treatment options available, you might not know what the best kind for you is. Don’t worry! You can talk to your general physician about what you’re going through, and they can recommend a few options! That’s kind of their job! Plus, as you’re interviewing therapists to see which one would be the best fit for you, this can be one of the questions you ask. (Along with all of these other questions that will help you choose a therapist and figure out the best one for YOU!)

Also, one more piece of advice we wanna share—you don’t HAVE to choose one of these approaches. This is meant to give you an introduction to the different perspectives in psychology but it’s defs not meant to put you into a neat little box with a fancy title. In fact, your therapist might recommend skills and strategies that overlap two approaches! What matters is that you communicate with them whether you feel like you’re making progress and then adjust according to your own unique history and needs.

Going to therapy for the first time can feel scary, but you’re not alone. You have loved ones and medical professionals who can support you! Plus, we believe in you! You go, bestie!!!


Read More: Online Therapy 101, How to Get the Most Value From Your Therapy Appointments,