Finding a therapist can be an exhausting ordeal. With so many different types of therapies, it’s often difficult to know where to start. There are many different tools you can use to orient yourself when choosing a therapist to see, whether that be for one session or a long term commitment. Oftentimes therapists will advertise their preferred therapy style on their websites or on sites like Psychology Today. Here are some of the major types of therapy to keep in mind and perhaps try. A more complete description of different therapy types can be found here. In addition, congratulations for beginning to think about therapy as an option. Seeing care for yourself is brave and you deserve to give yourself credit for choosing to fight for yourself.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a therapy tool that works to tackle negative thought processes. Oftentimes, we speak to ourselves in our head and CBT is useful to change our self-talk to be more positive and kind. It is based on recognizing when we have negative self-talk (“I can’t pass this exam”), and working to challenge negative thoughts (“I’ve passed exams before, if I study I’ll do just fine”). It is a problem-focused type of therapy that works best to eliminate unwanted symptoms. A subset of CBT is mindfulness CBT (MCBT), wherein therapists will practice mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or focused breathing.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a behavioral therapy tool that works to address destructive or negative behavior patterns. DBT is based on the idea that there is a conflict between self-acceptance and the desire to grow, and utilizes mindfulness techniques to self soothe during times of crisis and ultimately improve behavioral patterns and decisions. Initially designed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT is now used for a number of mental health concerns like depression, eating disorders, or PTSD. People who often find this kind of treatment effective are those with borderline personality symptoms and those who have thoughts of suicide or self harm.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT is a therapy tool designed to build acceptance of inner emotions and situations that are beyond our control. Oftentimes, we are overwhelmed by our emotions and have a sense of shame that we respond to something in a certain way. ACT is helpful when there is something we are avoiding or feeling overwhelmed about, or to manage emotions pertaining to mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, addiction, grief, and trauma. Like CBT and DBT, ACT is a problem-focused type of therapy.
Some therapists utilize a social justice lens to their therapy. Feminist therapy focuses specifically on the ways in which women have been discriminated against, and how discrimination, stereotyping, and gender-based violence might affect you. While this is not a major type of therapy, it is useful to know that branches of therapy exist to focus on how systems of oppression (sexism, racism, classism, ableism, etc) might be affecting you.
Psychodynamic therapy is the classic therapy that comes to mind when we hear the words “therapy” and is most often represented in the media. While CBT/DBT/ACT are all based in cognition and behavior (problem-focused), psychodynamic therapy is interested solely in our emotions and mental state (global). Therapists will often employ this field of therapy to understand the root cause of mental distress/displeasure and explore one’s life history to gain self-insight. Humanistic therapy is a branch of psychodynamic that focuses on positive aspects of the whole person and develops those to grow, heal, and find fulfillment.
Somatic based therapy connects the mind to the body in order to target against the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Sometimes we become overwhelmed and overstimulated with our environments and turning to somatic healing can be helpful. People with anxiety/panic concerns, PTSD, ADHD, and others, may find this type of therapy useful.
There is a vast number of trauma-based therapy techniques. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is one such technique to heal from trauma symptoms and find internal peace. Another example is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
Many therapists will offer a mixture of these varieties. It is important to ask therapists about their training in a particular technique. Oftentimes, therapists or counselors will have short “get to know you” sessions, where you can briefly describe your situation and ask questions in order to determine if they are the right fit for you. One helpful question to ask is, “how will you approach what I’ve told you?” after describing what you’re experiencing. This is especially important if you have a goal in mind with your therapy or are looking for a certain technique. Other factors, such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, dis/ability competence as well as whether they accept your insurance can factor into whether or not a therapist is a good fit. If one therapist doesn’t seem like a good fit (the vibes are a valid reason to not like a therapist) then it is perfectly okay to look for someone else.