A Guide to Different Types of Therapy & Counselling Styles

So you’re interested in getting therapy – great! Now you’re faced with the next decision… What kind of therapy will you get?

In psychology, there are many different types of therapy, also known as counselling styles, counselling techniques, therapy approaches or therapeutic modalities.

Why? Because therapy is not a one-size-fits-all process! Each individual is unique and responds to different counselling styles and approaches. For therapy to be effective, it is important to choose the right approach that will suit your needs and preferences.

We get that this can all be quite overwhelming. That’s why we’ve prepared this helpful guide to introduce some common counselling styles and provide some tips on how to choose the best approach and type of therapy for yourself.

Why are counselling styles important?

Over the years, different types of counselling styles have been developed through research, theory and practice. Some are short-term brief therapies, others are longer-term approaches. Some are targeted towards solving specific issues, other types of therapy delve into a person’s life history to investigate root causes. Some focus on a person’s problems and challenges, while others focus on the potential for growth and change.

A counselling style or therapeutic approach is the lens the therapist looks through when addressing your issue. It informs how the therapist views your issues and interacts with you. Different therapists practice different approaches. It is important to find a therapist which practices an approach that suits you.

At New Vision Psychology, our therapists are experienced in a wide variety of counselling styles and different types of therapy. All our therapists use evidence-based practice. This means that they approach therapy by integrating the best research evidence and their clinical expertise with the client’s unique values and circumstances. This helps us achieve the best therapeutic outcomes for our clients.

Introducing 12 different types of therapy and counselling styles

Learn about these 12 common counselling styles.

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. By investigating how these are interconnected, the therapist helps you understand how they influence each other.

According to CBT therapy, the way a person thinks and feels affects the way they behave. If a person is feeling distressed, their perception of a situation may not be realistic or effective, and they may react in an unhelpful manner. People can improve their lives by adjusting their thinking and their approach to everyday situations.

The goal of this type of counselling is to identify, challenge and change irrational thoughts, or cognitive distortions, which lead to problematic behaviours that perpetuate distress. The therapist uses counselling techniques which help you restructure unhelpful thought patterns to develop healthier beliefs and behaviours. As a result, you are able to change your responses to difficult situations and deal with them more effectively.

2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) teaches people to accept their hardships and commit to making necessary behavioural changes. This is about accepting your psychological experiences (such as uncomfortable and painful emotions), while taking steps to change your behaviour.

This approach acknowledges that difficult emotions are an inevitable part of life. It is counterproductive to try to avoid and resist them, as this will lead to more distress.

The aim is to develop and expand your psychological flexibility. This teaches you to use mindfulness and develop emotional openness. You learn how to adapt your thoughts and behaviours according to your values and goals. As a result, you’re able to increase your resilience to difficult situations and lead a meaningful life aligned with your personal values.

3. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy that teaches you how to manage painful emotions, develop stronger relationships and decrease self-destructive tendencies and behaviours.

DBT is a counselling technique that provides skills and strategies in these main areas:

  • Mindfulness – Increasing your awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, so you can react more appropriately to any situation
  • Distress tolerance – Helping you tolerate negative emotions, instead of trying to avoid or escape them
  • Emotion regulation – Helping you control your own emotional state; manage and change intense emotions that are causing problems in your life
  • Interpersonal effectiveness – Helping you communicate with others in a way that maintains self-respect; build and maintain healthy relationships

It teaches you to develop self-acceptance, while simultaneously helping you to change. This approach is especially useful for people who have difficulty managing and regulating their emotions or exhibit self-destructive behaviours.

4. Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Therapy

According to psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy, human behaviour is driven by unconscious forces. If our internal conflict is buried, we will continue to suffer internal strife. By bringing unconscious thoughts and feelings to the surface, we can start to examine repressed experiences and emotions, and therefore facilitate healing.

These types of psychotherapy are about investigating the past to better understand the present. The therapist analyses your past relationships and childhood experiences to understand how they have affected your current life, thinking, behaviour and relationships. The therapist connects recurring themes and behavioural patterns throughout your lifetime, to identify what is and isn’t working.

This is suitable for those who are prepared for a longer-term approach. It suits those who are willing to delve into their life history, engage in extensive self-reflection and challenge their deep-rooted behaviours.

5. Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy focuses on the positive aspects of human nature. Instead of examining negative behaviours, pathology or past experiences, this approach focuses on the present and emphasises one’s positive characteristics and potential for growth. This may be used in combination with other therapies.

This is a client-centred therapy, which is based on the belief that each individual controls their own destiny. It assumes that people are inherently motivated to fulfil their internal needs.

The therapist encourages free expression, where you openly express your thoughts and feelings. Their role is to demonstrate unconditional positive regard by showing complete support and acceptance.

This type of counselling is about helping you develop your own inherent ability to find wisdom, growth, healing and fulfilment within yourself. The goal is to achieve your highest potential, also known as self-actualisation.

6. Positive Psychology

Positive psychology focuses on exploring your strengths and virtues instead of weaknesses and neurosis. Instead of emphasising the causes and symptoms of mental problems, this approach looks at identifying positive traits, patterns, strengths, behaviours and experiences that can help improve your life.

This is not about ignoring or denying the negative experiences and influences in your life. This approach is often used in conjunction with other approaches to expand and balance the therapeutic process. It is about helping you examine and learn to use your strengths, in order to develop more optimism and minimise negativity within your therapeutic experience. The goal is to help you live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

7. Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) is a popular type of therapy that aims to increase your awareness of your thoughts, feelings and actions. This approach emphasises non-judgement, while increasing your conscious awareness of the present moment.

You learn to identify your limiting or maladaptive thoughts and behaviours. You are encouraged to interact with these aspects of self, and gain greater control of how you respond to situations. You are empowered to respond with intention, instead of being purely reactive.

This is often combined with other forms of therapy. For instance, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) incorporates mindfulness practices such as mediation into cognitive therapy.

8. Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy looks at your communication, behaviour and relationships with those around you, and how these relate to your own issues and struggles. This includes relationships with your partner, family, friends, work colleagues and peers.

According to this approach, difficult relationships cause mental health difficulties. Improving social functioning and the quality of one’s relationships can improve one’s psychological symptoms.

The therapist works on your unresolved grief, adjustment difficulties, life transitions, relationship conflicts and interpersonal deficits. The aim is to improve your interpersonal behaviour, which will give you more support from others, and therefore improve your mood and wellbeing.

9. Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a practical method that helps you commit to the process of change. It acknowledges the difficulty of making life changes, while helping you overcome insecurities and find the internal motivation required to change your behaviour.

The therapist is supportive and encourages you to explain your need and reasons for change. Instead of providing you with information and advice, which may cause resistance, the therapist comes alongside you to help you express why and how you might change for yourself. The therapist is like an interviewer whose role is to prompt and develop a conversation about change and commitment. Hearing yourself express your commitment to change increases your ability to actually make those changes.

This intervention is suitable for those who start off unmotivated, angry, hostile or unprepared for change. The goal is to increase motivation and to make a commitment to change. Motivational interviewing can also prepare you for other types of therapies; it is often combined or followed up with other interventions.

10. Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is about guiding you to rewrite your own life story, as an expert of your own life, in a way that is consistent with your life goals.

According to this approach, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves influence how we perceive and respond to the world around us. Your life events are viewed as stories, and these stories can shape your identity. By telling yourself negative stories about yourself, you get stuck in a mindset where these problems define who you are, therefore limiting your ability to enjoy meaningful and fulfilling experiences.

In this type of therapy, the therapist views your life as full of possibilities waiting to be discovered, and helps you separate yourself from your problems. You learn to change your thought patterns and see yourself as an expert of your own life. You are empowered to rewrite and create alternate stories for your present and future that reflect your dreams, purpose, values, skills and goals.

11. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) focuses on finding solutions to present problems. Instead of delving into a deep analysis of pathology and past events, this is about quickly resolving current problems. This approach may be used on its own or with other therapeutic interventions.

This approach assumes that you are motivated to find solutions and that you know what you need to do to improve your own life. Under the therapist’s guidance and coaching, you are prompted to find the best solutions for your problems. Together, you will identify your therapeutic goals and discuss how your life would change when you take the steps to resolve your problems. The therapist will help you recognise your own virtues and strengths, focusing on what you can rather than can’t do, in order to find solutions and come up with a plan for change. This will enable you to make positive changes more quickly.

12. Integrative Therapy

Integrative or holistic therapy combines elements from different modalities, according to the needs of the individual.

The therapist personalises the treatment, considering your unique characteristics, preferences and needs. Using their professional knowledge and experience, the therapist decides the best therapeutic tools and approaches for you. They modify and combine treatments as appropriate. They may use various approaches simultaneously or apply specific approaches at different stages throughout the therapeutic process.

This is a flexible and holistic way to include tools and strategies from different psychological approaches.

How to choose the right counselling style

While most therapeutic approaches can be used to treat different mental health issues, some are more effective for certain issues and conditions.

For instance, psychodynamic therapy is especially effective for treating depression, anxiety, pain and relationship issues. It suits people who are ready to delve into their past, uncover reasons behind their problems, and embark on a longer-term therapeutic journey. On the other hand, solution-focused brief therapy is particularly effective for work-related or personal stress as well as couples counselling. It suits people who want a short-term goal-oriented approach, focusing on solutions rather than causes, looking at their present and future circumstances instead of their past.

When deciding on the type of counselling to pursue, choose one that matches your needs and preferences. Here are some points you might like to consider:

  • Is this a new and/or specific problem?
  • Is this a recurring problem?
  • How long are you ready to spend in counselling?
  • How motivated are you to change?
  • Is your goal to achieve immediate relief of uncomfortable symptoms?
  • Do you want to figure out the underlying issues causing your symptoms?

Not everyone will be able to answer these questions immediately. Choosing a counselling style can be overwhelming and most people do this with the help and guidance of their therapist. At New Vision Psychology, our highly experienced psychologists are trained in a variety of counselling styles and will help you customise a specific approach for your needs and preferences.

To find the right psychologist for you, use our personalised matching tool or call us at 1300 001 778.

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