Common Types of Psychotherapy

For parents new to the world of mental health, the different types of practitioners and the different therapeutic techniques can seem overwhelming.  The good news is that you don’t have to know all the answers in order to find a mental health professional that can help your child.  However, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the most common types of psychotherapy in use today so that you can feel like you are making an informed decision.  To help you with that understanding, here are the basic definitions of the most common types of psychotherapy.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

One of the most common types of psychotherapy in use today, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often combined with other techniques and methodologies to provide the most comprehensive treatment for a client.  In essence, the cognitive-behavioral approach to mental health rests on the idea that children learn what they live.  The environment a person is raised in, the circumstances of their upbringing, and the major events of their childhood and adolescence play a large role in who they become.  If a child is raised by parents that don’t express their emotions in a healthy manner, the child will mimic this dysfunctional response and may struggle to identify and express their own emotions.   Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) works to replace those dysfunctional thought patterns, responses, and behaviors by introducing healthy alternatives and reinforcing the change through positive experiences.  As the problems each client is facing are different, the techniques, tools, and strategies used in CBT can vary and are generally specific to the needs of the individual client.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is also based around behavior but differs in that it seeks to use changes in behavior to change thought patterns and emotional responses.   This approach to psychotherapy is very structured and includes techniques like self-monitoring, role playing, and behavior modification.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy 

This type of psychotherapy combines cognitive-behavioral techniques geared at learning to regulate emotions and learn to identify reality versus perceptions with practices like mindfulness, acceptance, and distress tolerance.  It was primarily developed as a way to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and is the first therapy to prove effective in helping those with BPD.  It also shows promise in helping those with spectrum mood disorders like self injury and can an effective approach for treating teens who exhibit cutting behaviors.

Humanistic Therapy

The Humanistic Therapy method of treating those with mental health concerns takes a very different approach than the behavior-based methodologies.  It centers on the concept of self-actualization and the idea that people are responsible for their own choices.  This means that childhood experiences, learned behaviors, and any resulting dysfunction are irrelevant, what matters is taking responsibility for the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors experienced.   Therapy may focus on major internal conflicts like acceptance, authenticity, and individualism.

Psychodynamic/Psychoanalytical Therapy

This is one of the oldest schools of thought around treating mental health concerns and centers on how someone’s childhood, upbringing, and parental relationships are impacting their current lives.  Although psychodynamic analysis may be part of a mental health professionals approach to treatment, it is not generally the only tool in their toolbox.

It is important to remember that these are not the only types or techniques used by mental health practitioners.  There are many other approaches and methods that are valid and proven to help those in need.  The most important factor in getting your child the help they need is to find a mental health professional that your child is comfortable with and partner with them to find the right approach for your child’s needs.


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