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Types of psychotherapies

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

There are different approaches to psychotherapies that the psychologists generally draw on one or more theories of psychotherapies. A psychotherapy theory acts as a roadmap for psychologists, which is technically a guideline for understanding the patients and their problems to develop solutions.

The approaches to psychotherapy are five broad categories:

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies

This approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. Psychoanalytically oriented therapies are characterized by a close working partnership between therapist and patient. Patients learn about themselves by exploring their interactions in the therapeutic relationship. While psychoanalysis is closely identified with Sigmund Freud, it has been extended and modified since his early formulations.

Behavior therapy

This approach focuses on learning's role in developing both normal and abnormal behaviors.

o Ivan Pavlov made significant contributions to behavior therapy by discovering classical conditioning, or associative learning. Pavlov's famous dogs, for example, began drooling when they heard their dinner bell because they associated the sound with food.

- "Desensitizing" is classical conditioning in action: A therapist might help a client with a phobia through repeated exposure to whatever it is that causes anxiety.

- Another influential thinker was E.L. Thorndike, who discovered operant conditioning. This type of learning relies on rewards and punishments to shape people's behavior.

- Several variations have developed since behavior therapy's emergence in the 1950s. One variation is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on both thoughts and behaviors.

Cognitive therapy

Which emphasizes what people think rather than what they do.

- Cognitive therapists believe that it's dysfunctional thinking that leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors.

- By changing their thoughts, people can change how they feel and what they do. Significant figures in cognitive therapy include Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck.

Humanistic therapy

This approach emphasizes people's capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. Concern and respect for others are also important themes.

- Humanistic philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Buber, and Søren Kierkegaard influenced this type of therapy.

- Three types of humanistic therapy are incredibly influential. Client-centered therapy rejects the idea of therapists as authorities on their clients' inner experiences. Instead, therapists help clients change by emphasizing their concern, care, and interest.

- Gestalt therapy emphasizes what it calls "organismic holism," the importance of being aware of the here and now and accepting responsibility for yourself.

- Existential therapy focuses on free will, self-determination, and the search for meaning.

Integrative or holistic therapy

Many therapists don't tie themselves to anyone's approach. Instead, they blend elements from different methods and tailor their treatment according to each client's needs.

Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology.

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