Psychotherapy Approaches


Freudian psychotherapy is only one approach to counseling. Most therapists are eclectic or integrative which means they use many approaches in their treatment.
Freudian psychotherapy is only one approach to counseling. Most therapists are eclectic or integrative which means they use many approaches in their treatment.

In a previous post, “Therapy Resources,” I provided a list of about 20 links to help you begin your journey to exploration and recovery.  It can seem overwhelming at first to choose a therapist and begin therapy, so to help to make things a little easier this post will elaborate on the different approaches to psychotherapy as outlined by the American Psychological Association. These approaches are all geared to helping psychologists better understand whatever their clients may be going through and more readily find the best road-map to solving  issues for clients and patients.

It is important to note that all respected psychologists and other psychotherapists including counselors and social workers are well-versed in many of these methods.  However, most therapists will differ in their preferences for any given approach and will often adopt a specific therapeutic philosophy, or combination of approaches, that they choose to apply to their practice.

Knowing the different approaches can help you narrow down your final list of possible therapists.

The various styles of psychotherapy generally fall into one of five broad categories. The categories are as follows:

  1. Psychoanalysis & psychodynamic: this approach concentrates on altering troubling behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by exposing their underlying meanings and motivations. The therapist and client work together very meticulously which allows the client to better understand themselves via their interactions with their therapist. The father of this form of psychotherapy is Sigmund Feud. Freud contributed significantly to the idea of the unconscious which suggests that we are not aware of all of our thoughts and feelings and the goal of therapy is to make that which is unconscious, conscious. 
  2. Behavioral: with this approach, the main focus is on the client’s behaviors using a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning and interactions with the environment. It tries to get to the root of the behaviors by breaking down a specific incident and pinpointing how a client’s actions result in consequences which may reinforce behaviors.  The two most important contributors to this approach are Ivan Pavlov and E.L. Thorndike.
  3. Cognitive: when using this method, therapists hone in on the client’s thoughts primarily as opposed to their actions. The predominant theory is that a person’s thoughts determine how they behave in a given situation. Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck are considered the forefathers of this approach. Thoughts influence our feelings and behaviors and if we can reexamine out thoughts we can influence our feelings and behaviors.
  4. Humanistic: this style of psychotherapy emphasizes a person’s ability to make rational decisions and cultivate their maximum potential. Other important considerations are concern and respect for others. This approach is further broken down into three more concentrated styles, and they are:
    1. Client-centered – this idea rejects the accepted belief that a therapist is the authority on their clients’ inner experiences. The main role of the therapist here is to show the client their concern, care and interest which, in turn will motivate the client to make the necessary changes within themselves.
    2. Gestalt therapy – this ideology highlights the client’s awareness of the here and now and their ability to accept responsibility for themselves.
    3. Existential therapy – in this model, the main consideration is the client’s free will, self-determination and search for meaning.
  5. Integrative/Holistic: this last approach focuses on combining several methods in different ways for each individual client in order to achieve the best results.

Now that you know of the types of psychotherapy a therapist may use to help you solve your issues, regardless of what they are, you can be a much more active participant in the therapy process. It is important to assert yourself in the therapeutic relationship and to ask for what you want and need from your therapist and from the psychotherapy. For example, if you feel a therapist is being overbearing or overly assured in your treatment or on the other hand if they are refraining from giving you much needed feedback, it’s important to speak up and discuss the relationship and the process of therapy. While a therapist is trained according to different approaches and philosophies to help you with your issues, no one will ever know you better than yourself.  It’s perfectly acceptable to challenge your therapist or to be critical of your therapist who is only human. You are looking for someone you can afford, someone you who believe is credible and competent and most importantly someone with whom you can have a connection. Oftentimes their credentials or therapeutic approach is not nearly as important as your ability to feel safe, connected and comfortable with them. 

1 thought on “Psychotherapy Approaches”

  1. Good to see the old doc’s face Dr. Frank! You are so right….the ability to feel safe, connected and comfortable so excels a therapist’s style or training…..when people ask me about my approach as a therapist i really just want to say…”whatever you need, whatever will best suit you!’…..that is my approach!” It does not mean that there are not many schools of thought i have been trained in nor does it mean I am helter skelter about the way I treat. It simply is the real truth…every patient needs an approach that will connect to their heart, stir their soul….and get them moving out of whatever they are struggling with into a more positive personal or world view.Whether it is their search for the meaning of life or how to deal with that pesky sister-in-law, it is always different for every patient. Thanks for your knowledge about the different and varying approaches…patients can choose, if they so wish, to receive treatment in many ways…..but mostly thanks for that last sentence…. “Oftentimes their (the therapist’s) credentials or therapeutic approach is not nearly as important as your ability to feel safe, connected and comfortable with them”.Truer words about the therapeutic approach were never spoken!!

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