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Avatar Author 10 Jun 2023

Types of Psychotherapy: Approaches to Treat Mental Illness

Psychology is a vast subject and it can surely get confusing to those who are new to it. With a wide range of therapies available to a psychologist, it is vital that each is understood in its entirety to determine the appropriate type for the patient. There is no single type of therapy that will work for everyone universally. Therefore, it is left up to the skills of a good psychologist to be able to see what works well for the patients.

In order to help you get familiarised with the various kinds of therapeutic approaches, here is a quick read on the most widely used forms of psychotherapy.

Meaning of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy also known as ‘talk therapy’ is nothing but techniques that help you deal with behaviours, emotions, and thoughts that cause stress or anxiety. Within the word psychotherapy, all sorts of approaches used to treat psychological disorders are covered. The process involves tackling the client’s problems, whether specific or general by a trained psychotherapist. Be it any kind of psychotherapy, all of them have common stages that are achieved throughout the therapy. Every psychotherapy focuses on developing a therapeutic relationship, communicating, creating a dialogue, and working to overcome negative thoughts and behaviours.

While psychotherapy exists as a distinct profession with its own subject matter, there are different types of professionals who offer it including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.

Different kinds of Psychotherapy


Before going into the various approaches to psychotherapy, let us understand the number of formats that exists when it comes to rendering treatment to mental illnesses.

1. Individual therapy: This type of therapy only involves the patient and therapist, working as a one-on-one interaction.

2. Group therapy: Group therapy refers to a setup where two or more patients are participating in therapy at the same time. Usually, the small group of individuals share a common goal which allows them to offer and receive support from other members of the group. This technique is very useful as patient-sharing experiences help others learn and feel they are not alone in this struggle towards tackling mental illness.

3. Couple therapy:  This sort of therapy setup involves working with a couple where the therapist helps them improve their relationship functioning. This approach makes the partners understand why there has been a change or shift in their relationship either owing to a mental disorder or communication and behavioural trouble.

4. Family therapy:  Family therapy revolves around improving the dynamic relationship within families and can include as many family members exist. Family is an important aspect of our lives and people with mental illnesses require the support of their family to overcome and cope with their difficulties. Remember that family therapy is an effective tool to understand your loved ones and what they're going through.

When you hear the word ‘psychotherapy’ immediately you might have pictured a patient lying on a couch talking, while a therapist jots down relevant points on a notepad. However, in reality, the picture is very different and there are many techniques used to administer psychotherapy. Its use may vary based on a lot of factors including the preference of the client, the nature of the client’s diagnosis, the flexibility of the client, and most importantly the training and background of the therapist. Let us now look at some of the main types of psychotherapy which is popularly used by psychologists all around the world.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Also known as CBT is the most commonly used psychotherapy which is a short-term, goal-oriented approach mainly focusing on the link between our thoughts and behaviours. This therapy aims to change thought patterns that cause distress or negative acceleration of our behaviour. The therapist helps you establish new ways of thinking by focusing attention on the assumptions you make about yourself and others. CBT is usually recommended for people who think and behave in ways that can trigger mental illnesses, depression, or anxiety disorders, patients unable to take antidepressant medications, and people of all ages suffering from interpersonal problems.

Psychodynamic Therapy: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on life events and relationships that affect your current feelings and choices. The therapy is based on the assumption that you have emotional troubles due to unresolved and unconscious conflicts often stemming from childhood. Therefore, the goal of such therapy is to acknowledge and understand negative feelings and repressed emotions in order to settle internal psychological conflicts. This in turn can help improve life experiences, self-esteem, and help you maintain healthy relationships. Psychodynamic therapy is undertaken over a period of time ranging from six months to several years. To be able to speak openly about your problems and to help you uncover previous memories and experiences that have shaped your life is the very essence of psychodynamic therapy. Although it takes longer to obtain the benefits of psychodynamic therapy, sometimes short-term goals can be achieved.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy: Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or DBT is a cognitive behavioural therapy typically used for high-risk and tough-to-treat patients. The focus of DBT is to give people the skills to manage their emotions, handle stress, and improve relationships in a manner that is healthy and mindful. The term dialectical refers to the idea of bringing two opposites together in therapy, that is acceptance and change. Originally DBT was introduced to treat people with suicidal behaviour and borderline personality disorder, however, this method of psychotherapy is widely used to treat mental conditions and is believed to be exceptionally helpful. More importantly, it helps people who are seemingly uncontrollable with their intense negative emotions and inclination towards self-harm. DBT teaches you how your experiences are real and how you must accept yourself even when life poses unique challenges.

Humanistic Approach: Unlike other behavioural-based therapies, the humanistic approach focuses on a person’s individual nature rather than his behaviours putting them in a specific psychological category. The therapy is a holistic approach towards a person, their positive behaviours, and their ability to grow, heal and understand oneself. Self-exploration and self-actualisation are major milestones in humanistic psychotherapy, especially useful for people with depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. Within the humanistic approach, there are two popular techniques namely, Gestalt therapy and Client centred therapy. However, in both cases, your therapist will be actively listening to your point of view with warmth and respect while encouraging growth and self-realisation.

Supportive Therapy: Supportive therapy is where your therapist literally coaches you on how to manage your anxiety and problematic thoughts on your own. This approach is especially very good to boost your self-esteem and have alternate forms of therapy that might help you. Along with psychotherapy, you can use a combination of animal-assisted therapy, art, and music therapy that can help you better handle grief, anxiety, depression, and other feelings.

Mostly, every psychotherapy session lasts 40-50 minutes which is essentially a guided conversation where your feelings and emotions will be discussed at length to identify what to work on. It is always best if you and your therapist both agree on the goals of your treatment. Medicines may also be referred by your psychotherapist to enhance treatment.


At Counsel India, we design our practical psychology courses in a way to unleash the full potential of every psychologist and counselor. We are establishing the biggest network of professional Counselors and Psychologists around the globe. To learn more about our services and courses, email

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