Types of therapy: An A-Z of therapeutic approaches

Types of therapy: An A-Z of therapeutic approaches

For therapy to be effective, counsellors need to apply the right techniques to tackle the issues facing their clients. These different techniques are called therapeutic approaches. A therapeutic approach can be used alone or in collaboration with other approaches to address a problem.

The following are the therapeutic approaches widely in use;


Adlerian therapy

Adlerian therapy pioneered by Alfred Adler is also known as Individual therapy. It focusses on the individual, their personal life and their experiences during childhood. These experiences affect the perspectives we adopt later in life and how we react to situations facing us. The Adlerian counselor simply helps you understand why you behave the way you do. It is best for people looking to overcome feelings of inferiority, anxiety and anti-social tendencies. Adlerian try to advocate for people to work towards a social interest to take away the crippling burden of constant self-criticism.

Adlerian therapy is done in 4 stages.

  1. Engagement: The therapist establishes a relationship with their client mainly by offering support and encouragement.
  2. Assessment: The therapist learns more about their clients’ backgrounds to understand their way of thinking.
  3. Insight: The therapist interprets the information they have into theories of probable cause of the client’s problem. And seeks the client’s opinion.
  4. Reorientation: The therapist helps the client develop useful strategies to cope with their situation and their thinking.

Art therapy

Art therapy uses creative techniques such as painting, coloring, drawing, making collages and sculpturing to communicate thoughts and feelings. During artistic expression, people express themselves honestly, which would otherwise be very difficult to achieve in words. Art therapists would help their clients decode the unconscious messages they relay in their art to better understand themselves and what they may be going through.

The use of Art therapy has been shown to;

  • Improve self-esteem
  • Relieve stress
  • Manage addictions
  • Alleviate symptoms of anxiety
  • Lift people from depression
  • Help people cope with illness, disability or loss


Behavioural therapy

This form of therapy, as its name suggests identifies potentially self-destructive and unhealthy behaviours to help change them. It is believed that unhealthy behaviours are a learned response to past experiences that a client never really got over. This form of therapy aims to help people learn new positive responses to recurring traumatic events. It is very effective in treating a wide array of conditions and disorders such as;

  • Panic disorders
  • Social withdrawal
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anger issues
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive Compulsory Disorder (OCD)

Brief therapy

Unlike behavioural therapy that examines the past, brief therapy focuses on the present. It looks at the client’s current life circumstances to find solutions and make positive changes. It is short-term and requires only about 3 or 4 sessions to start bearing fruits. It emphasizes the strengths and resources of the client. The therapist looks at what you can do well so that you set your goals in line with that. Therapist in brief therapy are directive, there’s not much room for seeking consensus.



Coaching first views clients as whole beings with the potential to get better at what they do or realize who they are, with little support. Therefore the work to create transformation is solely done by the client. The coach would empower you to find answers to your problems and put those answers in practice. The results have to be observable and measurable for coaching to be deemed effective. Interactive sessions may last hours and the coaching program may take months depending on progress.

Coaching mainly supports individuals and teams to be motivated, to achieve greater self-awareness and co-operation so that they can realize their goals.

Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)

Cognitive analytic therapy merges analytic psychology and cognitive therapy. It, therefore, looks at past experiences and analyses them to understand why a client feels, thinks and acts as they do. Thereafter conclusions are drawn on helping them solve their problems or develop new coping mechanisms. The therapist essentially uses techniques from cognitive therapy. CAT is time-limited and lasts for an average of 16 weeks depending on the nature of the problem being solved. Forming a relationship based on trust is key in this therapy to encourage openness.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence how we behave. For instance, when you are distressed, you may adopt a pessimistic view of reality that may not be realistic. CBT challenges your state of mind, it identifies harmful thoughts and beliefs and tests whether they accurately depict the reality. If that is not the case, strategies are employed to overcome them. It focusses less on past causes and looks at current problems and practical solutions. Hence it is considered a solutions-oriented form of therapy.

CBT can help manage long term conditions such as;

  • Treating mental illness without medication
  • Alleviating symptoms of mental illness
  • Coping with stress, loss, and illness
  • Managing emotions such as flaring anger and irrational fear
  • Overcoming trauma related to violence and abuse
  • Addiction and substance use disorders
  • Sexual disorders

Cognitive therapy

Your previous experiences can have a lasting and harmful perception of yourself and give you a distorted view of the world. The function of cognitive therapy is to interrogate your attitudes, your emotions, and thinking so that it can guide you away from harmful behavior and irrational beliefs that are detrimental to your wellbeing. It is a great therapy method for overly pessimistic and depressed people to help them attain a realistic or even optimistic perspective.

Creative therapy

Creative therapy uses a wide range of techniques to help clients find a way of self-expression without words. It includes visual arts, writing, dancing, music, drama, basically anything creative that a therapist could use. These methods of expression help clients to communicate their feelings and emotions. Art can act as a bridge to the subconscious. There is a lot of freedom during creative therapy sessions to explore who you are and discover certain traits about yourself that you may not have been aware of.


Eclectic counselling

Eclectic means wide-ranging, eclectic therapy, therefore, draws methods and techniques from a variety of disciplines and uses a range of proven the perfect combination of therapeutic tools to apply. To put it simply, an eclectic therapist customizes the therapy process for each client. The technique is focussed on the effectiveness of treatment rather than strict adherence to methods and therapy structures.

Emotionally focused therapy

This form of therapy focusses on adult relationships in light if bonding or attachment styles. The goal is to create more secure bonds and to develop trust that is essential for healthy relationships. It is an appropriate therapy for couples and families. The therapist will help you;

  • learn to interact in a responsive and emotionally-connected way,
  • understand your partner’s and your own emotions
  • address underlying insecurities
  • communicate better to solve conflicts in relationships

EFT has been proven to be effective for partners experiencing financial difficulty or illness afflicting one of them or their child. Situations like these create distress in relationships that often lead to a greater frequency of conflict.

Existential therapy

Existential therapy addresses philosophical problems affecting clients. It explores the uncertainty people may experience when faced with life unanswered concerns. For instance, happens when we die? And what is the meaning of life? These questions normally occur to people facing a sudden change in life such as grappling with a terminal illness and accidental disability. Therapists will help you confront these circumstances so that you can make deliberate, meaningful and informed decisions on how to live your life.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is designed to do away with negative feelings arising from memories of traumatic events. It does this by focussing on disturbing the emotions that result from the events. It is thought to imitate the state we enter when (REM) rapid eye movement sleep. When in this state we make new associations between things by having images flash in our mind’s eye. This high-speed processing mode is what psychologists tap into. They can accomplish this through side-to-side hand motion to guide the client’s eye movements.

Studies have shown that EMDR may be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, stress as a result if chronic illness, depression and eating disorders.


Family therapy

This type of therapy helps family members improve interpersonal communication and understanding to resolve conflicts. It includes all family members living in close proximity such as a household. It is usefully administered to families dealing with a difficult situation such as alcoholism or drug addiction of one family member.


Gestalt therapy

Gestalt, a German word for ‘pattern’ is a client-centered therapy that helps clients focus on the here and now in connection to their past experiences. Clients are encouraged to re-enact their past experiences and other scenarios such as dreams so that they can be more aware of their harmful behaviors and negative thought patterns. When you understand why you do what you do and can identify the patterns involved, you are then able to break them, relate better with other people. This technique is useful in treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and stress.


Humanistic therapy

This is a holistic approach in therapy that uses thoughts and feelings to achieve self-development and self-actualization. It emphasizes the need to be your true self so that you can have a fulfilling life. It respects every individual’s unique way of viewing the world. The core belief in this technique is that people are capable of making the right decision for themselves they only need to first understand and accept who they are. Gestalt, person-centered, transpersonal therapies and transactional analysis ad are all humanistic approaches.


Integrative counselling

This is a combined approach form of therapy. It claims that no single approach is sufficient to treat a client; each person needs to be considered a unique entity and counselling techniques should be tailored to their needs and circumstances. It integrates the affective, cognitive, behavioural and physiological systems within a single person. It also addresses the social and spiritual aspects of the client.

Interpersonal therapy

As the name suggests, this form of therapy is specifically focussed on interpersonal relationships. The therapist will help the client identify destructive patterns in their relationships so that they can work out how to stop the cycle. It is based on the belief that personal relationships are at the center of all psychological problems because humans are social creatures. The goal of this technique is to help the client communicate better. It is effective in treating depression.


Jungian therapy

This is an analytical form of talk therapy that brings together the unconscious and the conscious parts of the mind to make a person feel balanced. It calls the client to confront the deeper elements of their minds and look at their real self rather than what they present to other people. Techniques used may include dream journaling and engaging in creative experiences like word association. It may help clients address issues such as low self-esteem, past traumas, grief, anxiety, and depression.


Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)

NLP therapy involves looking into strategies that have achieved success either in your life or in other people and applying them for a personal goal. It relates the thoughts, language and learned patterns of behavior and their effectiveness in generating specific outcomes. It combines cognitive behavioural and humanistic therapies to hypnotherapy. Once you learn the events and patterns that influence your thinking and your actions, you can reproduce such events and patterns to achieve the same results.


Person-centered therapy

It is also known as client-centered counselling. It deals with how individuals perceive themselves. It sees people as having an innate tenancy to develop their full potential. This ability is however blocked by certain life experiences that affect our sense of value. In this method, the client needs to feel accepted and to be better able to understand their feelings. In the end, the client should be able to connect with their sense of self-worth so that they can progress in their endeavors.

Phenomenological therapy

This is a philosophical therapy that explores an individual’s experience rather than its external reality. Therapists would help clients first understand why they perceive things in the way they do. Thereafter they explore through dialogue, a more helpful way of thinking and perception.

Play therapy

Play therapy is used to observe and understand children. The therapist helps the child express emotions and process unresolved trauma. Children learn how to redirect inappropriate behavior and new coping mechanisms.

Primal therapy

This is trauma-based psychotherapy. It argues that distress is caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma and can be brought to conscious awareness to resolve it. It views talk therapies as insufficient in dealing with pain especially distasteful past experiences. The therapist helps the client see how this trauma translates to repressed anger violence and other destructive behaviours. Past scenes are relived to ‘cleanse’ them.


Psychoanalysts believe that people’s behavior is influenced by their unconscious mind and they might not be aware of it. The unconscious stores experience from the past and have a huge bearing on how we act, think and feel later in life. The therapy brings content in the unconscious mind into awareness through the use of techniques such as dream analysis, and free association. Once they are in full view, they can be dealt with.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

In this form of therapy, the client is encouraged to talk about their childhood relationships with their parents and other people. Psychodynamic therapists help clients find patterns in their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. Hence it is derived from psychoanalysis. Techniques such as free association and transference are used. The therapist must first build a relationship with their client based on trust for them to fully open up.


This form of therapy weaves together your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual attributes, it aims to encourage personal growth. Psychosynthesis practitioners believe that you need to synthesize all aspects of yourself to evolve and self-actualize, it is a psychology of the soul so to speak. In that regard, it also addressed existential concerns.


Relationship therapy

Relationship therapy encourages people such as family members, couples and work partners to create effective communication and problem-solving skills. They do this by recognizing harmful patterns that lead to conflict so that they can understand one another and manage their reactions.


Solution-focused brief therapy

As the name suggests, solution-focused therapy is time-limited and dwells on the present. Therapists encourage their clients to adopt a positive mindset and use it for goal setting and action. This form of therapy has been criticized for being insensitive to past experiences. It is, however, necessary for people who need to move on.

Systemic therapies

This therapy deals with interactions of people in group dynamics. How people interact and associate in systems may be harmful or useful to individual members. The function of the therapist here is to identify harmful interactions and change those transactional patterns for the better. It is applicable in professional and social groups.


Transactional analysis

This approach draws together aspects of cognitive-behavioural, humanistic and psychodynamic therapies. Practitioners inspect your beliefs and your perspectives and to determine how they influence your pattern of behavior. They do this through going over three states that form your personality; your childhood, your present moment as an adult and your expectations of parenthood.

Transpersonal therapy

This is any form of therapy that explores spirituality and higher consciousness. It transcends the human condition of survival. It goes beyond personal experiences and worldviews to search for a greater meaning that is not only beneficial to you but the society as a whole.

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