Which Type Of Therapy Is Right For You?

Making the decision to engage in therapy can be a difficult and overwhelming process, especially for those of us who are not familiar with the different forms of therapeutic approaches that are commonly offered today.  Like most things in life, what some people find helpful and effective other people may not.  Determining what style and treatment approach may work the best for you is just as important as finding a therapist who is an appropriate fit for your needs.   Below is a summary of the most common forms of therapy used today, which are all evidence-based treatment models that have been shown to be effective in treating mental health conditions. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This form of therapy targets maladaptive thought patterns (thoughts, beliefs, attitudes) that lead to problematic behaviors and negative emotions.  The goal of CBT is to identify, challenge, and reframe dysfunctional thought patterns and associated behaviors into healthier, more realistic ways of thinking.  CBT has been proven to effectively treat anxiety and depressive disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, chronic pain, chronic psychosis, and substance use disorders in adults.  CBT can be completed in 12 sessions or can be a precursor to long-term therapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This form of therapy is a modified version of cognitive behavior therapy that focuses on building an individual’s emotional and cognitive regulation skills in order to decrease negative reactions.  DBT involves identification of triggers that prompt destructive reactive states as well as assessment of when specific coping skills can be implemented in a series of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to minimize maladaptive behaviors.  The coping skills involved with DBT include reality testing through acceptance, distress tolerance, relationship effectiveness, emotion regulation, and mindfulness.  Research has shown DBT to be effective treatment for borderline personality disorder, self-harm behavior, suicidal gestures, and substance abuse. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT is type of therapy that combines cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness interventions in order to promote awareness and acceptance of uncomfortable feelings without negatively reacting to them.  Instead of minimizing or avoiding negative feelings, ACT aims to teach individuals to embrace all feelings and focus on responding in desirable and valued behaviors.  ACT has been found to be effective in treating anxiety and depressive disorders and addiction. 


Mindfulness-based therapy encourages conscious awareness to internal and external experiences in the present moment without judgment.  Research has shown mindfulness to be effective in treating anxiety and depression, stress, and addiction. 

Motivational Interviewing

This form of therapy is a client-centered, goal-directed approach that focuses on resolving ambivalence by eliciting and building intrinsic motivation in order to promote change.  MI offers individuals an avenue to look at all aspects of a problem or behavior in order to help clarify whether change would be beneficial. MI is generally brief and time-limited and has been found to be effective in treating behavioral issues, substance abuse/dependence, gambling, and relationship issues.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing targets distressing memories and symptoms associated with traumatic experiences through an 8-phase approach. EMDR works by stimulating the brain’s natural adaptive information processing systems through sensory input with the use of a sequence of eye movements during recollection of painful memories.  EMDR is generally used to treat PTSD and other trauma-related conditions.


This form of therapy focuses on eliciting and resolving unconscious thoughts and feelings in order to reduce maladaptive functioning.   Interventions associated with psychodynamic therapy include dream analysis, free association, working with resistance and transference, and working through unpleasant memories. Psychodynamic is typically long-term therapy and has been found to be effective in treating depression, somatic disorders, and interpersonal problems.

Client-centered talk therapy

This form of therapy focuses on providing a safe, empathic, and supportive environment in order for individuals to express his or her true thoughts and feelings without judgment in order to discover solutions and answers on his or her own.  This therapy is appropriate for individuals who may be experiencing chronic stress or are unsure about the source(s) of his or her presenting concerns.

This list of therapy approaches is far from exhaustive and there are a number of alternative treatment modalities that are also used in therapy settings.  I always encourage clients to interview potential therapists about the type of treatment approach(es) he or she may use and have a discussion about whether a certain type of therapy is an appropriate match for the reasons therapy is being sought.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT