Some therapists use a specific method, while others use a “blended” approach.
If you’re new to therapy, you might assume all therapy looks the same: You sit across from a therapist and talk about your problems. In reality, there are numerous types of therapy you may encounter. Your therapist may tell you upfront what approach they’re using, or they might not. Some therapists specialize in a specific type, while others may use a “blended” approach to adapt to the needs of the client.
“I’m a big believer that [therapy] is patient-directed or client-directed,” says Cara Maksimow, LCSW. “When somebody comes in wanting to work on a specific issue, that’s going to be the treatment plan.”
It’s a good idea to ask your therapist during the first session what therapy approach they like to use. This can help you figure out if this therapist is the right fit for you.
Types of Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is “talk therapy.” There are some specific types of psychotherapy that are popular today, including:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT: This approach focuses on dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to unwanted behaviors. The goal is to help you recognize distorted thinking. Then, you can reframe your thoughts and change your actions.
Psychodynamic therapy: This approach helps you consider how your past life events and relationships may affect your current feelings and choices. It can help you become more aware of “trouble spots” in your life that are holding you back.
Exposure therapy: This is a treatment for anxiety disorders, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and phobias. It helps “expose” the patient to the thing they fear in a safe environment.
Group therapy: In this approach, a group of individuals with a shared problem meet with one or more psychologists. This setup allows them to work through their common problems together. It can also help reduce shame about their illness, build a network, and develop social skills.
What’s Right for You?
It might be useful to do some basic research before looking for therapists or meeting with one. The recommended therapy approach may differ depending on your needs. For example, if you are struggling with OCD, you might benefit from a therapist who specializes in exposure therapy or CBT. If you want to get better at expressing your feelings or being more aware of your thoughts and triggers, you may benefit from psychodynamic therapy.
If you’re not sure, meet with a therapist and tell them what you’re struggling with. Many may be honest with you if they think they are not the best fit for you, depending on your needs. They may also be able to recommend the best therapy approach for you.
Whichever you choose, find out what to expect at your first therapy session here.
Cara Maksimow is a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey. She is the founder of Maximize Wellness Counseling and Coaching.
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How do you put together a treatment plan,
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or do you put together a treatment plan for somebody?
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Because we were joking earlier that,
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the myth about therapists is that they never tell you
you're done, right?
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But what if you want to have a goal and a plan?
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Is that something that you work on with patients,
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or does that come from the patient?
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Is it patient-directed?
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I'm a big believer that it's patient-directed
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So when somebody comes in wanting to work
on a specific issue,
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that's gonna be the treatment plan,
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is we're gonna work on that specific issue
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and collaboratively decide when the time is
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to finish or take a break or end treatment.
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I'm a big believer that all of us
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for our own emotional health and well being,
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it's a lifelong journey,
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but therapy doesn't have to be a lifelong journey,
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so you can work with your therapist to decide
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what's right for you, as far as timing and planning.
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And then like how much time are we talking about?
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It all depends.
Weeks? Months? Years?
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Cognitive behavioral therapy is more of
a short-term therapy.
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People come in for CBT and it may be 6, 8, 10 weeks
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of work to get over a certain hurdle or obstacle
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or deal with a loss.
Like what would be an example
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of somebody who would benefit from
cognitive behavioral therapy?
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Maybe someone who's feeling a lot of anxiety
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just had a recent loss
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or somebody who had a life event
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or a newly diagnosed illness,
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so I work with a lot of people who have
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physical illnesses that all of a sudden throw
their emotional health
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into a bit of a tailspin,
so if they
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just had a heart attack or diagnosed with diabetes
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or something that changes the course of their life,
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short-term, 8 to 10, 15 weeks
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of cognitive behavioral therapy to help them manage
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this new diagnosis can be really helpful.
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And what other types of therapy are there?
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Like, more intensive?
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So there's traditional psychotherapy,
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like Freudian psychotherapy.
That's when you're on the couch.
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Right, right, that's the,
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cartoons will show you lying down on a couch
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and I think traditional psychotherapists are still trained
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to lie down on a couch.
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There's brain spotting, dialectical behavior therapy,
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there's a whole different range of different types
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of talk therapy that can be used,
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and a lot of therapists are trained
in multiple modalities,
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and we'll use what's the best fit with the person
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they're seeing at that time.
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Hmm. And will I know this as a client,
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or will you just sort of work your magic on me?
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It kind of depends.
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I'm a big believer in psychoeducation,
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which is teaching a lot of the way the brain works,
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teaching about the difference between
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So for example, with a lot of neuroscience,
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we talk a lot about how the prefrontal cortex,
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our thinking part of our brain,
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and our amygdala, which is our fire alarm
in our brain,
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how they work together when we find ourselves
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under stress or anxious or in crisis,
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and I'll do a lot of explaining and teaching
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about how that works, and the more information
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you know about how your brain works,
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and the more tools that you have,
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the better off you'll be.
- Different approaches to psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Accessed on July 17, 2020)
- Psychotherapy: understanding group therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Accessed on July 17, 2020)
- Types of psychotherapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Health Publishing, 2011. (Accessed on July 17, 2020)
- What is exposure therapy? Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Accessed on July 17, 2020)