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What type of therapy is right for you?

Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger, PhD

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Therapy is for everybody, but not every type of therapy works for every person. Different therapies help people in a variety of ways, depending on what you’re struggling with and what your goals are. To get the most out of therapy, it’s important to find the right type for your needs.

How many types of therapy are there?

There’s no exact number, given how therapeutic methods are constantly evolving, but one estimate puts the number of psychotherapy varieties at more than 400.1

The following are some well-known examples:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on helping you identify and modify negative patterns of thinking and behavior. You’ll gain a better understanding of how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT designed to help you regulate your emotions and manage impulsiveness. It combines CBT techniques with mindfulness-based practices such as yoga and meditation.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) uses guided eye movements and other types of bilateral stimulation to help your brain process traumatic memories and reduce their intensity.

Internal family systems (IFS) therapy is based on the idea that everyone has an inner family of parts, each with its own needs and perspectives. Your therapist will help you develop self-awareness and work through conflicts between these different parts.

Couples therapy is beneficial for partners who want to improve their relationship. A therapist can give you tools to understand each other’s needs better and work through conflicts together.

Group therapy allows people with similar issues to support each other while receiving treatment together. It can be especially helpful for those who feel isolated in their struggles, and it’s often more affordable than individual therapy sessions.

Somatic therapy and other holistic approaches can incorporate spirituality, nutrition, and physical health in addition to psychological work and/or medication.

There are many more types of therapy in practice today. But instead of trying to familiarize yourself with hundreds of options before making a choice, you can narrow your focus by considering your situation, goals, and personal preferences. Try walking through the following steps to guide your decision.

Step 1: Identify your main concerns

The first step to finding the right therapy is to reflect on your experiences and feelings so you can become more aware of the problems you’d like to solve.

Start by making a list of what’s bothering you. It can be helpful to break this list down into categories such as relationships, career, home life, habits, sleep, and so on. Under each category, take notes about any concerning thoughts or feelings you may have.

For example, say you know you’re having trouble with relationships. Maybe it’s with just one other person, or maybe it’s with multiple people. Perhaps it’s not limited to anyone specific but happens in certain situations, such as social gatherings. What do you think or feel when these situations come up?

You can apply this same type of brainstorming to other areas in your life, too. Once you’ve written it all down, look for any patterns that may be causing distress.

Step 2: Imagine your ideal outcome

Now that you have an idea of what you hope to address through therapy, it’s time to ask yourself what your long-term mental health goals look like. Are you aiming to manage symptoms, resolve past trauma, improve your relationships, or develop better coping skills?

Visualize a situation where the problems you identified in step one no longer exist. You can even turn this into a journaling exercise by writing down what an ideal resolution might look and feel like.

For example, if you struggle with body image or have low self-esteem in general, imagine feeling more confident in who you are. If you get anxious around other people, picture yourself feeling relaxed and comfortable when socializing. Or if you’re having trouble managing stress, try to see yourself responding to difficult situations with patience and clarity.

Step 3: Consider your personal preferences and values

The way you think and feel about therapy is just as important as what it can do for you. Take this opportunity to think about anything that could affect your therapeutic experience or make therapy more or less appealing.

Questions to ask yourself include:

  • What’s my preferred learning style? Would I prefer talk-based therapy, or do I respond better to experiential therapies such as art or movement?
  • What are my expectations? Am I looking for specific solutions or seeking a safe space to express my thoughts and feelings?
  • Do I have any cultural, religious, or spiritual beliefs or values that should be taken into account?
  • How do I feel about medication? Am I open to it if recommended by my therapist?
  • Am I open to completing homework assignments or practices to carry out between therapy sessions?
  • Am I comfortable with the idea of group therapy, or would I prefer one-on-one sessions?
  • Am I willing to try other types of therapy if the first approach doesn’t seem to be working?
  • How is my physical health? Mental and physical health issues often interact with each other. Are there untreated physical concerns causing additional stress?

Keep practical factors in mind, like whether your insurance will cover the cost of therapy, what you can or can’t afford if you’re paying out of pocket, what your schedule looks like for regular sessions, and how easy it is to access therapy in your area.

How do you know if therapy will be effective?

There’s no way to say for sure whether a specific type of therapy will get you the results you want—mental health treatment is an individual experience that can be influenced by countless factors.

One thing you can do, though, is research the type or types of therapy you’re interested in so you can make an informed decision about what to pursue. For each type of therapy you’re considering seriously, you may want to:

  • Broaden your understanding of its underlying principles, strategies, and techniques.
  • Look for independent research studies and reviews that demonstrate its effectiveness at treating your specific concern.
  • Read about others’ experiences with this therapy to gain insight into its potential benefits and drawbacks.
  • Consider any specific qualifications, specializations, and experience that may be beneficial in your chosen therapist.
  • Consider whether certain therapeutic methods align better with your values than others.
  • Discuss your concerns and goals with a mental health professional who can offer expert advice on which therapies might be most effective for you.

Finding the right kind of therapy—and the right therapist—can take some work, but it’s worth the effort to improve your mental health and life. Take it one step at a time, stay flexible, and trust that you’ll find the right person to support your healing.

To get started, browse our therapist directory.

About the author

Elise Burley is a member of the editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.

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