FYI, There's More Than 1 Type Of Therapy. Your Guide To The Most Accessible Types

Gone are the days when seeking therapy was considered taboo. On the contrary, therapy has now become normalized and even encouraged. The stigma surrounding mental health issues is no longer prevalent, thus allowing people to embrace therapy as a way of helping them lead a happier and more fulfilling life. As we recognize the importance of mental well-being, we are more open to admitting our need for help and more receptive to accepting it (hence the rise of several therapy apps). Consequently, the field of therapy has expanded, and various therapeutic approaches and techniques are available to help individuals achieve a happier life and a healthier mindset.

Whether someone is seeking help for depression, relationship concerns, anxiety, or dealing with past trauma, there is a type of therapy that is best suited to help them address their challenges, meet their specific needs and help them achieve their therapeutic goals. While all therapies aim at helping the individual, each one has different principles and methodologies.

Amongst the most well-known therapies are Psychodynamic therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Existential Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Knowing the underlying principles of each and approaches towards helping each client overcome mental health challenges is paramount in making the right choice when it comes to seeking help. Here's what each therapy is all about to help you identify the one right for you.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Rooted in the teachings of psychology's founding father, Freud, psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy is still very popular today. The basic premise of psychodynamic therapy is helping clients understand how past and current life events affect their current relationships, thoughts, and emotions and ultimately guide their choices. The manager of Behavioral Health at Central DuPage Hospital, Allison Johnsen, LCPC., BCC., tells The Zoe Report that psychodynamic therapy looks "at someone's past to explore what might be causing current behavior and patterns that people aren't necessarily aware of."

A psychodynamic therapist will not solely focus on a client's symptoms. Instead, they will try to help them acknowledge the reasons behind the symptoms. For example, internal psychological conflicts, unresolved trauma, repressed thoughts, and negative feelings can be breeding grounds for several problems in our lives. Anxiety, trust issues, psychosomatic pains, and the inability to maintain healthy relationships are only a few examples.

During psychodynamic therapy, clients are encouraged to openly discuss a range of issues to help them uncover experiences and repressed thoughts that have shaped their lives. Exploring the reasons and pinpointing the "Why" helps a person gain a better understanding of their actions and facilitates change. This type of therapy is particularly helpful for people suffering from depression, or panic attacks, or who find themselves stuck in a rut of a repetitive circle of making wrong choices and leading an unhappy life. However, gaining a clear understanding of oneself takes a long time, and therapy may take from many months to several years to successfully conclude.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT for short, is a well-known therapeutic model. According to CBT's core principles, psychological problems are the result of "faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking" (via The American Psychological Association). In other words, our thoughts, actions, emotions, desires, and physical sensations intertwine, so any negative thought we may have will dilute its way into all other aspects of our lives, including physical sensations and psychosomatic symptoms.

During CBT, a therapist tries to help people break the negative cycle of thoughts. According to Johnsen, "CBT is about getting a read on your internal monologue, building cognitive awareness, and realizing what your thoughts are doing to your mental state. It's about asking yourself, 'Are these thoughts helping me or hurting me?" CBT helps clients focus on the here and now, helping them solve current problems rather than dwelling on past experiences or trauma. They are encouraged to think about what's in their control and change the things they can instead of stressing over the things they cannot. Breaking the negative cycle of thoughts and learning how to behave in a more productive way allows individuals to improve their state of mind and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

CBT is a useful tool to help people facing a range of emotional challenges, such as coping with grief or loss, overcoming emotional trauma related to abuse or violence, and learning techniques for handling stressful life situations. Moreover, CBT is known to help with phobias, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, depression, and substance abuse disorders.

Existential Therapy

Derived from the preachings of philosophy's most prominent figures — Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard — Existential therapy focuses on a person's free will and one's ability to make the right choices that lead to a fulfilling life. As such, an existential therapist will center on the individual client rather than their symptoms, stressing the belief that everyone has the capacity for self-awareness formed through our relationships and interactions with others. We exist as an individual entity in a system of interconnected relationships. As we navigate our way through life, we must continuously re-create and re-evaluate ourselves based on these relationships. However, this omnipresent need for change inadvertently brings about anxiety.

Existential therapy helps a person overcome this anxiety by encouraging clients to embrace personal accountability and responsibility for correct decision-making. As we become accountable for our choices, we come to realize that we can also change anything and everything that we don't like in our lives to turn it into a happier one. While a therapist will not tell you what the correct decisions are, they will help you reach these decisions on your own. Through empathy, thought-provoking questions, and a guided reflection on your experiences, existential therapy will help us not only happily "exist" but also productively "co-exist" with others around us.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy shares some basic premises with cognitive behavioral therapy since they are both considered to be "talking therapies." However, while CBT helps clients to break the cycle of unhelpful thinking and learned helplessness, DBT also encourages them to accept themselves as they are. The term dialectical refers to the two polar opposites of both accepting yourself as you are and changing your behavior at the same time. While this notion might seem contradictory, according to Mind, DBT teaches clients how to achieve this goal.

Originally created to treat people with borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavior therapy is now used to treat a variety of mental and emotional disorders. Clients that are depressed, experience negative emotions, and are prone to self-harm may especially benefit from DBT (via Manhattan Health Counseling). Much like CBT, DBT helps clients change their mindset and stop dwelling on their shortcomings. Teaching a person to love oneself is the first step toward healing.

DBT empowers clients to cultivate self-acceptance, release the burden of past mistakes, and foster a positive outlook on their future, even in the face of challenges and hardships. This comprehensive approach combines individual and group sessions to maximize therapeutic outcomes. Within these sessions, clients are actively guided to identify and label their emotions, enabling the development of self-awareness and self-management skills. By recognizing their emotions and learning to channel them effectively, individuals acquire the necessary tools to navigate life and create a meaningful and fulfilling existence.

Trauma Therapy

Unfortunately, trauma is not uncommon. According to the American Psychiatric Association, as many as 1 out of 11 Americans will be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their life. Tara Galovski, P.H.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University, tells Forbes that trauma is defined as a "sudden, unexpected event that is life-threatening in nature to you or someone you love." Although not everyone who has experienced trauma requires therapy, trauma therapy is specifically designed to assist individuals in overcoming the profound emotional impact of these life-altering experiences.

The initial phase of trauma therapy focuses on breaking the cycle of avoidance. Individuals who have endured traumatic events often attempt to suppress the memories associated with them. Although revisiting these memories can be distressing, avoiding them only exacerbates the emotional turmoil. By refusing to confront the memories, individuals find themselves unable to progress and become trapped in a cycle of both evading and failing to address the traumatic experiences. During trauma therapy, a therapist will prepare the client to revisit the trauma and assist them in doing so in a safe, supportive environment. Of course, this may result in the client feeling worse after the initial session, but as the therapy progresses, the negative feelings fade out.

Trauma therapy can help with trauma-related distortions and allow the person to assess the current dangers in their lives clearly. Moreover, during the course of therapy, clients have reported experiencing fewer nightmares and feeling less depressed. Eventually, clients can revisit the memory without experiencing anxiety and panic attacks.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) was developed by the University of Nevada psychology professor Steven C. Hayes, in the 1980s. Stemming from the principles of conventional behavior and cognitive behavior therapy, ACT encourages a person to stop avoiding and denying their emotions and instead accept that they are the result of life events and should be embraced in order to move forth. During ACT therapy, clients will accept their past experiences and hardships and stop struggling with how they feel; instead, they are encouraged to commit to making positive changes in their behavior despite what they are going through.

Hayes wrote in Psychology Today, "We as a culture seem to be dedicated to the idea that 'negative' human emotions need to be fixed, managed, or changed — not experienced as part of a whole life. We are treating our own lives as problems to be solved as if we can sort through our experiences for the ones we like and throw out the rest ... Acceptance, mindfulness, and values are key psychological tools needed for that transformative shift." As such, ACT, can be used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, eating and substance use disorders, work-related stress, chronic pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

While all therapies have their benefits, finding which one is the right fit for you will further ensure successful outcomes during your mental health journey. Depending on your individual situation and preferences, there are lots of opinions for finding a therapeutic approach that will best resonate with you.