What Are the Four Main Types of Psychotherapy?

Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2020

What are the four main types of psychotherapy?

The four main types of psychotherapy work in different ways.
The four main types of psychotherapy work in different ways.

There are various approaches to psychotherapy. Which type of therapy will work best may vary from person to person. Therapists often use more than one type of psychotherapy approach in helping their clients. The four most common types of psychotherapy are as follows

1. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies: This psychotherapeutic approach is dedicated to changing the problematic behaviors, feelings and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. This approach works in close partnership between the patient and doctor. Psychodynamic therapy analyzes the impact of life events (such as marriage, birth and death of a loved one), desires and past and current relationships on the person’s feelings and choices they make because of them. It involves the affected person and doctor working together to identify compromises the person made to defend themselves against painful thoughts or emotions. These compromises might have been made knowingly or unknowingly by the person. For example, a failed relationship may make a person believe that all relationships will be painful. They may seclude themselves because of such beliefs and keep struggling with this fear of being cheated on or hurt. Psychodynamic therapy helps discover such links and makes the person know themselves better. This will help the person overcome their fears and do better in life. An American neurologist, Sigmund Freud, developed the process of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is focused on uncovering the unconscious roots of a person’s symptoms and helps them apply this understanding to their life. Psychoanalysis may be short term or long term. It may focus broadly or more narrowly on a particular issue or symptom a person is having. The therapy also focuses on the person’s interaction with the people around them. It enables a person to better understand their needs in a relationship, healthy and unhealthy ways of meeting those needs and what they can do to improve their ability to express or communicate. This can help people manage life events such as the loss of a loved one or a relationship and disturbances within their relationships. They also become better equipped to meet the demands of shifting roles such as retirement or caring for a parent or a newborn.

2. Behavioral therapy: This psychotherapeutic approach is based on the principle that all types of behaviors are learned and unhealthy or harmful behaviors can be changed. It focuses on exploring the reasons behind the development of both normal and abnormal behaviors in a person. A classic example of behavioral therapy is Ivan Pavlov's famous experiment where he found that the dogs began drooling when they heard their dinner bell because they associated the sound of the bell with food. Behavioral therapy has several approaches including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This focuses on changing the thoughts and beliefs that are causing problems with the person’s mood and actions. 
  • Aversion therapy: This therapy involves teaching the person to associate a desirable but unhealthy stimulus with an extremely unpleasant stimulus. For example, the person may associate alcohol or drug use with an unpleasant memory.
  • Systematic desensitization: This helps people overcome phobias through various relaxation techniques.

3. Cognitive therapy (CT): This was developed by an American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. It is focused on cognition (what a person thinks) rather than actions (what they do). It is based on the principle that harmful or dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. It focuses on changing the person to change the way they feel and what they do.

4. Humanistic therapy: This type of therapy is focused on valuing a person’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. It emphasizes the idea of respect and concern for others. Humanistic therapy is often “client-centered,” which means it devalues the idea of therapists as authorities of their clients’ inner experiences. It is like a partnership where therapists help their clients change by emphasizing their concern, care and interest.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

APA


Harvard Medical School