A Quick Guide to Different Types of Psychological Therapy

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Navigating the world of therapy when you have a mental illness and trying to find a system that works for you can be confusing and jargon midfield.

While you should always seek medical advice and consult a GP about your options, this simple guide gives you a brief overview of some of the most popular type of therapies, how they work and what to expect.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT works on the basis that while you can’t always change your circumstances, you can change the way you react to them. Identifying faulty or negative thought processes and training yourself to see the world more positively can have huge effects on your mood and behaviour.

CBT is widely regarded as one of the most successful treatments for a number of conditions including depression and anxiety. What’s more, CBT is a short-term treatment that focuses on giving you the tools to change your thinking through self-reflection and deliberate changes to your thoughts and behaviour. This makes it a powerful tool for long-term change.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Often those struggling with emotional trauma will go to great lengths to avoid confronting their pain. These avoidance strategies and “inner battles” can be far more destructive than the initial source of distress. ACT encourages clients to confront their distress rather than avoiding it and end the struggle with internal thoughts and emotions.

During ACT you will work with the therapist using introspection and thought exercises to make healthy connections with your thoughts and sensations and help you act more independently of them in service of your values. This approach has seen great success treating anxiety, depression, stress and even chronic pain.

Schema Therapy

Schemas are those deeply ingrained worldviews which are formed early in life and affect how we see ourselves and everything around us. Traumatic experiences in childhood can lead to the forming of maladaptive schemas which force a person to see the world in a highly negative light. This deeply rooted paradigm of self-defeating thought can have serious and long-term consequences.

Schema therapy is an intensive and long term therapy in which cycles of self-destructive behaviour and their root causes are exposed and re-written. Emotions, thoughts and behaviours are examined in detail to produce long-lasting change. Schema Therapy is highly effective in treating chronic conditions like Borderline Personality Disorder and in helping individuals who were previously considered untreatable.

Solution Focussed Brief Therapy (SFBT)

Individuals struggling with emotional distress can often develop their own ways of coping with their condition. These methods form the basis of SFBT, a goal-driven therapy which aims to empower the patient to use their own strengths and desire for change as a powerful means of recovery.

SFBT does not look into the underlying causes of emotional illness, instead focusing on developing goals and strategies for improvement over a short treatment period. SFBT is therefore a fast, effective and low-intensity treatment and a good first choice for a range of conditions.

Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT)

Those struggling with depression and other illnesses often have difficulty seeing themselves positively and can have high levels of shame and self-criticism. Such patients can benefit from learning to have compassion for themselves through CFT.
In CFT inner mindfulness and powerful imagery is used to re-write those internal voices that are constantly criticising. Training yourself to react and think more positively can have great success in combating illnesses which stem from shame and low self-esteem.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

DBT is an offshoot of CBT that developed to help those experiencing chaotic swings in emotion and an inability to cope with extreme feelings. Although initially developed with Borderline Personality Disorder in mind DBT has proven effective for a range of emotional difficulties.

Clients taking part in DBT develop skills in regulating their emotions and practice interacting with others in healthy, constructive ways through individual and group therapy. As in CBT, unhelpful thoughts are challenged and replaced with more positive alternatives.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative counselling technique that focuses on helping clients develop the motivation and drive to break themselves out of unhealthy behaviour. The therapist helps the client think about change and resolves any concerns or mixed feelings the client may have about changing their lifestyle.

Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative approach, valuing rapport between client and therapist and using the client’s internal motivations to drive change. This approach is mainly used to treat substance abuse and related disorders and is now established as an effective evidence-based treatment. It has also been applied successfully with anxiety treatment.

Narrative Therapy

When people experience traumatic events, the consequences of the event and the person’s interpretations of them turn the event into a story or narrative. Narrative Therapy enables clients to look objectively on their narratives and gain new insight into their lives.

Narrative Therapy focuses on separating the person from the problem, externalising issues so that they can be viewed objectively and addressed more effectively. Narrative Therapy also helps clients see issues in the larger context of their life story and build new narratives for themselves to follow.


Different therapies work better for different individuals, depending on their personality, the type and severity of their condition and the amount of time they can commit to therapy. All of the above therapy types are evidence-based and draw upon years of scientific study to help understand mental illness from different perspectives. Each has been shown to be effective in treating disorders and emotional difficulties, and new research is constantly improving existing techniques, empowering clients to change the way they think.


Sarah McKay

Sarah is a neuroscientist and writer, and the founder of Your Brain Health. As a PhD trained neuroscientist (not a doctor) Sarah has found her passion writing and talking about science and medicine. Her goal is to make neuroscience research simple and relevant to your everyday life.