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Types of Psychotherapy

Key Takeaways:

  • Psychotherapy is a form of mental health treatment where a person sits with a licensed psychotherapist to talk about their emotional challenges.
  • There are 4 major types of psychotherapy – psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and humanistic therapy.
  • Each type of psychotherapy will help a person to identify specific problems as well as introduce techniques that will help them solve these problems.

With mental health challenges becoming more prominent lately, there is  larger need for people to ensure their well-being and emotional development through psychotherapy.

“Psychotherapy helps with mental illnesses by creating a safe, non-judgmental space for patients/clients to express anything on their mind. Too often, patients can't do that with their parents because they'll either experience their parents as judgmental, dismissive, or overly worried, all of which inhibit patients. And their friends might be non-judgmental, but not particularly skilled or qualified.” said Dr. Mark Goulston, UCLA professor of psychiatry.

According to a review by the American Psychiatry Association, about 19% of adults in the U.S. encounter one or two forms of mental illness. Similarly, 2020 evidence from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (7CDC) shows that out of the 19% of adults receiving mental health treatment, 10% are being referred to psychotherapy or counseling sessions.

While seeking psychotherapy is great, opting for the wrong choice can lead to prolonged emotional and mental distress. This article provides a basic understanding of the different types of psychotherapy as well as the issues each of them solves.

Different Types of Psychotherapy

There are four major types of psychotherapy and each requires a different psychological approach. Let's look at them below:

1. Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapies

Developed by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies focus on penetrating and interpreting a person's deepest feelings and thoughts.

“Some people use them interchangeably but in psychotherapy, psychoanalysis is a more intensive therapy that dives into the past and is done with a licensed psychoanalyst”, said Abbey Sangmeister, licensed psychotherapist and life coach at Evolving Whole.

“Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, incorporates interventions from psychoanalytic theory but is much briefer and solution-focused”, Abbey added.

The six basic techniques most psychotherapists use to explore a client's subconscious as published by Freud Life include:

  • Anamnesis
  • Free association
  • Interpretation of Freudian slips
  • Dream analysis
  • Interpretation of symbols, and
  • Analysis of transference

Freud believed that by combining psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, individuals can gain self-awareness and an adequate understanding of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs as regards their early childhood experiences.

2. Behavioral Therapy

In the early 1900s, a group of clinical psychologists founded behavioral therapy to help eliminate dysfunctional behaviors in children and adults. They believed that a person can develop their behavior via learning or training.

Two major techniques are used during behavioral therapy – classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

“Classical conditioning works by pairing a neutral stimulus with a positive one. By using that in behavioral therapy, a patient or client can begin to stop destructive and counterproductive behaviors. They would begin to think and feel more positively and optimistically about the world and themselves”, Dr. Mark Goulston expressed.

"It is also built upon the idea that if you repeat a particular specific behavior for a month, it will become a habit and easier to continue. Also, if you continue to do it for six months it will become internalized into your personality and be even easier to maintain because it will feel natural”, he continued.

In contrast, operant conditioning is a learning procedure where the psychotherapist incorporates punishments or rewards as a means of modifying an individual’s behavior. With operant conditioning, there is a likelihood that punished habits will minimize while the rewarded ones will continue to reoccur.

Behavioral therapy is action-oriented, which makes it one of the ideal treatments for people with autism spectrum disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, phobias, etc.

3. Cognitive therapy

American Psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck started cognitive therapy in the 1960s to assist people in learning how to recognize and modify thoughts that may harm their emotions.

In his book, Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders, Aaron opined that “In the course of cognitive therapy, the psychotherapist can identify and capture automatic thoughts, making it possible to challenge and change the negative thoughts that triggered them.”

Asides from being a great psychotherapeutic treatment for mental health disorders, cognitive therapy may also serve as a coping mechanism for people going through:

To stop the negative thought patterns, your psychotherapist may recommend some helpful cognitive therapy strategies such as:

  • Self-management
  • Goal-setting
  • Journaling
  • Learning and reevaluating thinking distortions
  • Role-playing to identify potential problems that may arise while interacting with others.

4. Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy was founded by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow in the 1960s, believing that human beings are naturally good people and have the capacity to develop different aspects of their life.

Speaking with Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Linda Whiteside, she described Humanistic therapy as “a type of therapy that focuses on helping the client understand and accept themselves and their experiences. The psychotherapist will work with the client to explore their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and develop a greater self-awareness.”

In other words, humanistic therapy highlights the promising characteristics and skills of an individual, helping them to find healing and personal accomplishments.

Very often, humanistic therapists combine techniques such as empathetic understanding, congruence, reflective listening, mindfulness, and unconditional positive regard to help people through their self-discovery and awareness.


Psychotherapy is quite effective for reducing anxiety, managing self-esteem issues, gaining emotional support, and other range of problems. Before choosing a psychotherapy option, it is always important to seek the input of a qualified psychotherapist; they will walk you through the necessary steps to ensure you get the needed help.

About the author

Ifunanya Ukwuoma

Ifunanya Ukwuoma is a web content writer focusing on the alternative health and wellness industry. You can check her out on: