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Therapeutic Methods

Therapy methods abound. But which will work best for you? Here's a list:


Adlerian psychotherapy was founded by Alfred Adler (an ex-associate of Freud who rejected Freud's notion that sex is the root of all psychological problems.) It takes a positive view of human nature: We are all goal-oriented creatures who are striving for social connectedness, and we are in control of our destiny. Many personal difficulties, Adler believed, stem from feelings of inferiority-he in fact coined the term "inferiority complex."
An Adlerian therapist will identify, explore, and challenge a client's current beliefs about their life goals. He or she will gather family history and will use information about a client's behavior patterns to help the client set new, socially satisfying,and attainable goals. These could relate to any realm of life and could include developing parenting or marital skills, or ending substance abuse. Once these healthier objectives are set, the therapist may also assign homework, set up contracts with the client,and make suggestions on how the client can reach his or her new goals.

Art Therapy

It may look like a craft class, but art therapy is a serious technique that uses the creative process to help improve the mental health of clients. Art therapy can be used on children and adults to treat a wide range of emotional issues, including anxiety, depression, family and relationship problems, abuse and domestic violence, and trauma and loss. Commonly found in hospitals and community centers, art therapy programs are based on the belief that the creative process is healing and life-enhancing. As they paint or draw, a skilled therapist can use the client's works of art and her approach to the process as springboards to help her gain personal insight, improve her judgment, cope with stress, and work through traumatic experiences.


Biofeedback is simply using signals from you own body to improve your health. If you've stepped on a scale or taken your temperature, for example, you've received "feed back" information that you then perhaps acted on.
A therapist may use more advanced biofeedback techniques to help clients suffering from anxiety, stress, or tension headaches. One such technique uses a machine that picks up electrical signals in the muscles. As the client tries to relax her muscles, she can get an immediate progress report by watching the speed of the signals, and thus learn how to better control her mind and body.


Christian therapy seeks to help clients work through psychological issues using both traditional therapeutic methods and a philosophy based on the Christian religion and the teachings of the Bible. Christian therapists guide their clients' emotional and spiritual growth simultaneously.


Developed by Carl Rogers in the 1940s, the client-centered method is based on the empowering idea that the client holds the answers to her problems--not the doctor in the white coat. The client-centered therapist's job, then, is to carefully listen and strive to understand the client, so that she can tap into her natural ability to grow and improve. Client-centered therapy helps the client live in the moment and focus on personality change, rather than on the origins of her personality structure.


Life coaching is an increasingly popular profession that has no specific licensing or academic requirements. Though psychologists also often consider themselves life coaches, these therapists don't focus on treating mental illness. Instead, they help individuals realize their goals in work and in life. An executive coach, for example, may be enlisted to help a chief executive become a better manager, while a "love" coach may map out a plan to help a client find romantic fulfillment.

Cognitive Behavioral (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy stresses the role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. It is based on the belief that thoughts, rather than people or events, cause our negative feelings. The therapist assists the patient in identifying, testing the reality of, and correcting dysfunctional beliefs underlying his or her thinking. The therapist then helps the client modify those thoughts and the behaviors that flow from them. CBT is a structured collaboration between therapist and client and often calls for homework assignments. CBT has been clinically proven to help clients in a relatively short amount of time with a wide range of disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Dream Analysis

While not commonly used as a stand-alone technique, therapists using a variety of methods may incorporate dream analysis into their practice. Exploring the meaning of dreams through symbols, myths, free association and memories may help clients process and understand their psychological issues. There are a variety of philosophies and approaches for analyzing dreams including Adlerian (where dreams are projections of a person's current concerns), Gestalt (where every person and object in a dream represents an aspect of the dreamer), and psychoanalytic (where dreams are a key to what is happening in a person's unconscious.)


Many practitioners now take an eclectic approach to therapy, drawing upon various aspects of cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic methods to create their own custom-made approach. Such therapists often work with their clients to create a treatment plan that encompasses different techniques to best address the client's particular problems and to appeal to their sensibility.


Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, or EFCT, is a structured approach to relationship revival. EFCT is a nine-step, three-event process for couples and families dealing with depression, post-traumatic stress, chronic illness, and other disorders. This therapy is proven to expand emotional response and initiate new cycles of interaction. EFCT presents a clear understanding of marital challenges and adult attachment. Research studies find that 70-75 percent of couples move from distress to recovery and 90 percent show improvement overall.


EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)is an information processing therapy that helps clients cope with trauma, addictions, and phobias. During this treatment, the patient focuses on a specific thought, image, emotion, or sensation while simultaneously watching the therapist's finger or baton move in front of his or her eyes. The client is told to recognize what comes up for him/her when thinking of an image; then the patient is told to let it go while doing bilateral stimulation. It is like being on a train; an emotion or a thought may come up and the client is supposed to let it pass as though he were looking out the window of a moving train.


Existential psychotherapy is based on the philosophical belief that human beings are alone in the world, and that this aloneness can only be overcome by creating one's own meaning, and exercising one's freedom to choose. The existential therapist encourages clients to face life's anxieties head on and to start making his own decisions. The therapist will emphasize that along with having the freedom to carve out meaning comes the need to take full responsibility for the consequences of one's decisions. Therapy sessions focus on the client's present and future rather than his past.

Family Systems Therapy

Family Systems therapists view problems within the family as the result not of particular members' behaviors, but of the family's group dynamic. The family is seen as a complex system having its own language, roles, rules, beliefs, needs and patterns. The therapist helps each individual member understand how her childhood family operated, her role in that system, and how that experience has shaped her role in her current family. Therapists with the MFT credential are usually trained in Family Systems therapy.

Family/Marital Therapy

Family and Marital therapists work with families or couples both together and individually to help them improve their communication skills, build on the positive aspects of their relationships, and repair the harmful or negative aspects.

Feminist Therapy

Feminist therapy focuses on empowering women and helping them discover how to break free from traditional molds that may be blocking their growth and development. Feminist therapy tends to be focused on improving women's effectiveness in areas such as communication, assertiveness, self-esteem, and relationships.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology is the application of psychological knowledge to the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists offer expert testimony in criminal and civil cases and may perform psychological autopsies and evaluate a person's psychological competency to stand trial. They may also consult and train law enforcement, criminal justice, correctional, and mental health officials.


Gestalt therapy seeks to integrate the client's behaviors, feelings, and thinking, so that her intentions and actions may be aligned for optimal mental health. The therapist will help the client become more self aware, to live more in the present, and to assume more responsibility for taking care of herself. Techniques of gestalt therapy include confrontation, dream analysis, and role playing.


The humanistic method takes a positive view of human nature and emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual. Therapists in this tradition, who are interested in exploring the nature of creativity, love, and self-actualization, help clients realize their potential through change and self-directed growth. Humanistic therapy is also an umbrella term for gestalt, client-centered therapy, and existential therapy.


Hypnotherapy focuses on hypnosis, the Greek term for sleep. The practice uses exercises that relax people, bringing them to an altered state of consciousness. This process focuses on mastering self-awareness. Through trance-like analysis, hypnosis decreases blood pressure and heart rate, putting one's physical body at ease. Working with memories, hypnotherapy helps a person to reframe, relax, absorb, dissociate, respond, and reflect. The process reconstructs healthier associations with a person's past events. Dealing with a wide range of conditions, such as anxiety and depression, people become responsive to new solutions that can lead to personal development through hypnotherapy.


IPT is a short-term psychotherapy in which therapist and client identify the issues and problems of interpersonal relationships. They also explore the client's life history to help recognize problem areas and then work toward ways to rectify them. There are also specific therapies, such as Imago therapy, which focus on intimate relationships. In addition, interpersonal therapy is not to be confused with transpersonal psychology, which is the study of states in which people experience a deeper sense of who they are, or a sense of greater connectedness with others, nature or spirituality.


Jungian or analytical therapy, developed by Carl Jung, seeks to help people access their unconscious to develop greater self-realization and individuation. Jung, a psychoanalyst, sought to understand the psyche via dreams, art, mythology, world religion and philosophy. The Jungian therapist helps the patient find more meaning in her life, with respect for the mysterious nature of the soul.

Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

For patients with chronic pain, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and other health issues such as anxiety and depression, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, is a two-part therapy that aims to reduce stress, manage pain, and embrace the freedom to respond to situations by choice. MCBT blends two disciplines--cognitive therapy and mindfulness. Mindfulness helps by reflecting on moments and thoughts without passing judgment. MBCT patients pay close attention to their feelings to reach an objective mindset, thus viewing and combating life's unpleasant occurrences.

Play Therapy

Generally for children ages 3 to 11, play therapy is a form of counseling that relies on play to help therapists communicate with children and diagnose their mental health. Because children develop cognitive skills before language skills, play is an effective way to understand a child. The therapist may observe a child playing with toys--such as playhouses and dolls--to understand the child's behavior and diagnose the problem.


Psychoanalysis is an in-depth form of therapy. The client learns what conscious and unconscious wishes drive their patterns of thinking and behavior on the theory that, by making the unconscious conscious, they will make more educated choices over how they think and act. Traditional psychoanalysts may treat clients intensively but reveal little of their own views or feelings during therapy. Modern psychoanalysts may treat less frequently and take a more interactive approach.


Psychodynamic therapy, also known as insight-oriented therapy, evolved from Freudian psychoanalysis. Like adherents of psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapists believe that bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness promotes insight and resolves conflict. But psychodynamic therapy is briefer and less intensive than psychoanalysis and also focuses on the relationship between the therapist and the client, as a way to learn about how the client relates to everyone in her life.

Psychological Testing

Psychological testing refers to assessments of a client's mental, emotional, and intellectual health. Neuropsychological testing, for example, addresses a patient's problems with cognitive functioning and can require hours of examination. Nonprofessionals, such as potential employers or educational institutions, now commonly administer achievement or aptitude tests to evaluate potential candidates. Intelligence tests and personality tests are offered through Internet sites, though their quality varies widely.

Rational Emotive Therapy

Rational Emotive Therapy, or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, was developed by Albert Ellis and was one of the first cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches. RET posits that our emotions result from our beliefs, many of which are irrational, and thus cause us to suffer unnecessarily. The RET therapists will question the client's beliefs to help use her natural ability to think clearly. The therapist will then encourage her to change her actions to align with her new, rational beliefs to relieve her emotional problems. This active approach often includes homework assignments.

Relational Therapy

Relational life therapy offers strategies to combat marital dysfunction and restore harmony in relationships. Couples--those recovering from affairs, traumatic events, or a lull in passion--can find RLT helpful. To repair discord, the therapist identifies the main conflict upsetting the couples' emotional intimacy. Once the partners see how they both contribute to the problem, the therapist teaches them skills to improve the ways they relate to each other. Couples may see a change in their relationship within three to six months.


Self-psychology is a mode of psychoanalytic treatment founded by Heinz Kohut. It posits that each individual's self-esteem and vitality derive from and are maintained by the empathic responsiveness of others to his or her needs. The self-psychology practitioner will thus emphasize the role of empathic listening in treating clients.

Social-Learning Therapy

Social-learning therapy is an active teaching approach to helping clients improve relationship and social skills. The therapist models desirable behavior for clients, who then mimic the behavior.

Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

Solution-focused therapy, sometimes called "brief therapy," focuses on what clients would like to achieve through therapy rather than on their troubles or mental health issues. The therapist will help the client envision a desirable future, and then map out the small and large changes necessary for the client to undergo to realize her vision. The therapist will seize on any successes the client experiences, to encourage them to build on their strengths rather than dwell on their problems or limitations.

Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis focuses on cognitive and behavioral functioning. The therapist helps the client evaluate her past decisions and how those choices affect her present life, in the belief that greater awareness will lead to better decision-making and judgment calls in the future.


Transpersonal therapy emphasizes the transcendent or spiritual aspects of a client's development. A transpersonal therapist may help the client cultivate a greater sense of connectedness with others, with nature, and with a higher spirit.