Type: Resource:

Understanding Therapy Approaches

Brief descriptions of what they mean.
A resource written by The Mind Clan
Understanding Therapy Approaches image

When finding a therapist, one of the most common confusions you may experience is when you see a therapist listing their approach in therapy. Whether you’re looking to start therapy for the first time or are looking to re-start therapy with a new therapist, understanding your therapist’s approach is key in finding a value-sync in your relationship with them in therapy.

Some therapy approaches are taught to a therapist as part of their educational training, while other approaches are nuances and skills they pick up through additional training programs. While therapists may choose the approach (or a combination of approaches) that they feel will be most beneficial for their client, every therapist has a primary approach that forms the base of their practice, stance, and values.

Some of the therapy approaches below may also be associated with their own certification processes (or dedicated licenses) for a therapist to be able to practice them (depending on local laws), so do clarify these nuances with your therapist when you speak to them!

  • What is (ACT) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:

    Action oriented approach derived from behavioural therapy focused on accepting emotions and reactions instead of avoiding or suppressing them, as a way to move forward and commit to making necessary changes.

  • What is Attachment Focused Therapy:

    Focused on helping clients establish or rebuild trust by expressing their emotions, and examining early childhood experiences with caregivers and connecting them to other relationships formed later in life.

  • What is Bodywork/Somatic Therapy:

    Focuses primarily on the connection between mind and body relating to thoughts and feelings, sensations, and movement. Along with talk therapy, the therapist may also make use of mind-body techniques and composite physical actions for holistic healing.

  • What is Client Centered Approach:

    An approach that is non-directive in which clients explore their concerns collaboratively with the therapist to discover insights, while the therapist is a compassionate facilitator who encourages and supports the client’s needs.

  • What is (CBT) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:

    A popular approach to therapy, focusing on addressing current problems experienced by a client. This approach indicates that feelings and behaviours are influenced by cognition, that is, the way an individual thinks. It focuses on problem solving and changing unhealthy thinking patterns to facilitate better coping.

  • What is Compassion Focused Therapy:

    Focused on building compassion and self-compassion in response to shame and self-criticism, stemming from experiences such as neglect, bullying, abuse and trauma. This method aids with self-love, safety and acceptance.

  • What is Arts Based Therapy:

    A form of therapy that uses art related mediums to help clients cope with a mental health concern. Clients do not need to possess an “artistic ability” to benefit from arts based therapy, and sometimes may use concurrent art forms like drama, visual arts and music as well.

  • What is (DMT) Dance Movement Therapy:

    Dance movement therapists facilitate a person’s healing through the use of dance movements as a way of restoring the physical, emotional, and intellectual health of an individual. Dance movement therapists provide a space for clients to experience a sense of invitation, a feeling of choice, validation, and the capacity to accept internal sensations. They provide compassionate care and positive attention as well.​

  • What is (DBT) Dialectical Behaviour Therapy:

    Focuses on four areas - mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness - to help clients develop skills for coping with painful, intense emotions.

  • What is Emotion Focused Therapy:

    Focuses on leaning into emotions as wisdom so as to reach insight, and this enables healing and healthier relationships. Adult relationship patterns are analyzed and examined in order to establish more trusting and safe connections, and also to create positive, healthy relationships.

  • What is Existential Therapy:

    Focused on helping clients come to terms with aspects of human existence by understanding free will, self determination, creating meaning and finding purpose to their lives. 

  • What is (EMDR) Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing:

    A non-conventional form of treatment that assists clients in processing traumatic memories and emotions by easing their associated feelings, using specific techniques.

  • What is Family Systems Therapy:

    Views the family as an emotional unit and helps clients resolve conflicts and establish relationships with their family members through a wide range of methodologies. Families work together to look deeper into the dynamics of their respective relationships and how their patterns are affecting them as a whole.

  • What is Gestalt Therapy:

    The focus is on moving through the present moment, processing the here-and-now, and taking personal responsibility, as contrasted to relying on interpretations of past events. It focuses on empowering the clients to gain awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and judgments about present circumstances in their life.

  • What is Humanistic Therapy:

    Views clients as inherently good, capable, autonomous individuals, who possess qualities that can help them make rational decisions. Encourages individuals to feel comfortable being themselves through reflection, growth, and healing.

  • What is Narrative Therapy:

    Views clients as experts of their own lives and encourages the processing of memories and emotions as stories, separating the individual’s identities from the problems they may be dealing with. It also makes room for examining the effects of larger systemic injustices on mental health, while focusing on skills and know-hows people use to respond to these problems.

  • What is Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic Therapy:

    A type of longer-term, in-depth talk therapy in which the therapist closely collaborates with the client to elicit subconscious thoughts and emotions in order to process the client’s prior experiences. For improved self-awareness and understanding, it focuses on figuring out how these past patterns relate to the client’s thinking, behaviour, and relationships in the present.

  • What is (REBT) Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy:

    A short-term approach aimed at identifying self-defeating thought processes, challenging them, and adopting healthy beliefs. It emphasizes on how these thoughts and beliefs could contribute to emotional pain, which can lead to undesirable behaviours that come in the way for someone to achieve their goals.

  • What is Solution Oriented Approach:

    A short-term approach that focuses on solutions and ways forward over problem solving or looking at the past for lessons learned. It is goal-oriented, and future-focused, and it makes use of the client’s strengths to facilitate desired change.

  • What is Transactional Analysis:

    Focuses on how clients’ interactions in interpersonal relationships might help to enhance communication, encourage introspection, and foster personal development. 

  • What is Trauma Informed Therapy:

    Trauma Informed therapy is not a single intervention or strategy, but rather a stance that a therapist takes to account for trauma and its impact on mental health. Interventions are tailored in light of the trauma history, triggers, and individual requirements of the client. It is a lens through which the therapist sees their clients, accounting for how trauma impacts feelings, behaviour, and emotion regulation.

  • What is Queer Affirmative Therapy:

    Queer affirmative therapy is a stance that the therapist takes that queer and trans* identities are not disorders. Therapists acknowledge and explore the impact that homophobia and transphobia have on the mental health of queer people. Conversations on gender, sexuality and sex are actively encouraged especially if it aligns with client’s needs, rather than adopting a neutral or passive approach towards them. The therapist must also continue to examine their own attitudes and beliefs, as well as any prejudices that may result from being part of heteronormative society, and consider how this influences their view towards queer folks and therapy in general.

  • What is Neurodivergence Affirmative Therapy

    Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, Dyspraxia, and other such conditions are not illnesses that need to be treated or fixed; rather, they form different kinds of brains and neurotypes with specific needs, strengths, and difficulties. A therapist who embraces neurodiversity, approaches therapeutic work with this understanding. The therapist does not believe that brains that deviate from the “normal” are “disordered”.

Can therapists offer a mix or blend of the above approaches?

Yes! That’s where an Eclectic/Multi-Modal/Integrated Approach comes in.  It combines various aspects of the aforementioned therapeutic approaches. Practitioners customize the approach used based on the client’s needs and preferences.

Therapists may adapt the therapeutic approach based on the individual needs of the client and this involves using various theories of psychology that are likely to work most effectively for that client and their individual situation, or a combination of several techniques. In this sense, rather than focusing only on one particular technique, eclecticism adheres to many types. This is done in collaboration with the client and taking in their feedback about what’s working well for them.

What do I do next?

Take the approaches above as a thought starter. The point of this article was toh help provide a brief explanation to you about a few therapy approaches, rather than give you complete visibility on how the therapist may use the approach in their practice.

Use the points above as a basis to gauge your therapist’s approach before reaching out to them, but don’t stereotype your therapist using them. Each therapy approach can have its own beliefs and tenets, so be sure to ask your therapist more information about their approach based on what you’ve read above!

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