The decision to start therapy can be a big one to make. But what many of us, myself included, didn’t know when we first made this decision is that there are about a billion types of therapy to choose from. OK, maybe not quite a billion. But a simple visit to the Psychology Today website will show you well over 50 different forms of therapy. How is an ordinary non-psych major supposed to choose which works best for them?
While we aren’t ready to bore you with the deets on all 50+ forms of therapy, ahead you’ll learn how six of the most popular forms work, straight from the therapists who specialize in them.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dr. Jenny Taitz is a clinical psychologist based in LA and the author ofHow to Be Single and Happy: Science-Based Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity While Looking for a Soul Mate. Here, she tells potential patients everything they need to know about DBT.
How it works: DBT treatment consists of learning four core skills: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and stress tolerance. You’ll keep track of what happens to you and how you handle it on a daily basis on diary cards that you’ll review with your therapist during sessions. “You keep track of these skills so you know firsthand if they work or don’t work for you,” Taitz says. You also have the option of calling up your therapist for a “coaching call” if you find yourself in a crisis and have difficulty incorporating the skills.
Who it works for: “I’ve found DBT to be helpful for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and things like bulimia,” she says. “But most DBT therapists would say that the skills could be helpful for anyone and I, personally, try to use all of the skills in my life.”
What you’ll get out of it: “Rather than a person being a patient forever, they come to treatment, they learn skills, they complete homework in the skills, and then they have this bank of incredibly powerful lessons that they can use for the rest of their lives,” she says. “As a therapist, I see someone for six months to a year—maybe longer—and then they’re using the skills on their own and they have a [new] capability.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Dr. Sharon Millen, a licensed psychologist who goes by “Dr. M,” tells us about CBT. She founded the practice Therapy-N-More in New York City.
How it works: “CBT targets issues by modifying dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. More solution-based than traditional Freudian psychoanalysis and its probing of childhood wounds, CBT focuses on challenging distorted cognitions, changing unhealthy behavior patterns, and developing effective and adaptive coping skills,” Dr. M says.
Who it works for: “CBT is used to treat a wide range of issues, including: depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disorders, and relationship difficulties.”
What you’ll get out of it: “The goal of CBT is to replace negative thoughts and actions with a positive growth mindset, and an array of adaptive behaviors that can be called upon when faced with difficult and stressful situations.”
San Francisco-based psychotherapist Tom Bruett gives us the scoop on interpersonal psychotherapy.
How it works: “Interpersonal psychotherapy uses the relationship between therapist and client (or patient) as the main vehicle for change,” he says. “Imagine someone who has issues with anger in various relationships in their life. At some point, they’ll probably get angry at their therapist. In successful interpersonal psychotherapy, they will be then be able to process that anger with their therapist and have a corrective experience, which can provide healing and growth. Therapy becomes a laboratory for trying out new, constructive ways of interacting with other people.”
Who it works for: “Interpersonal therapy works best for someone who is looking to understand the relationships in their life better. For example, if you’re someone who has trouble connecting with other people on a deeper level and you’re looking to better understand what’s going on there. Or if you’re someone who tends to date the same type of person and finds it hard to find someone who’s a better fit for you romantically.”
What you’ll get out of it: “If you’re able to better understand your role in the important relationships in your life, the possibilities are endless,” he says. “You can leave toxic relationships. You can have more vulnerable, intimate relationships with your friends and family or function better in groups at work. Understanding interpersonal dynamics and relationships is crucial in our more connected yet fragmented world.”
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Dr. M fills us in on MBCT, another form of therapy she specializes in.
How it works: “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, or MBCT, builds upon the principles of cognitive therapy with the use of techniques such as mindfulness meditation, in which the client is taught to consciously pay attention to his/her thoughts and feelings without attaching to them, or placing judgment upon them,” she says. “MBCT is a group intervention that lasts eight weeks and blends the basic principles of cognition with meditation techniques.”
Who it works for: “This technique has been found to be particularly effective with those who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. Based on the theory that individuals with chronic depression tend to revert to the automatic cognitive processes which triggered depressive episodes in the past, the goal of MBCT is to avoid relapses by interrupting the automatic and dysfunctional thought processes which have served to perpetuate depression.”
What you’ll get out of it: “By developing a routine meditation practice, clients can use the technique whenever they start to feel overwhelmed by negative emotions,” she says. “Clients become attuned to their feeling-state and their thought patterns. They learn to be ‘present’ as they shift into a more balanced and less judgmental state of being.”
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Dr. Taitz practices a form of therapy similar to MBCT called ACT. Here, she tells us about it.
How it works: “An ACT therapist helps you pinpoint your values and teaches you strategies to get unstuck from thoughts and feelings that get in your way so you can focus on showing up in your life in a way that’s purposeful,” she says. “For example, if you value connecting with people, yet your mind sends you all sorts of ‘not good enough’ or ‘why bother?’ thoughts that leave you feeling less than enthused to reach out, you’ll learn just how to be mindful of thoughts and feelings so they don’t derail you and you can respond more flexibly to them.”
Who it works for: “This approach is helpful for anyone! I try to use ACT all the time, personally. For example, if I have the thought, ‘sleep in instead of run to Barry’s [an exercise class],’ I see that rather than believe it and jump up,” she says. “Beyond helping people who struggle with sadness or anxiety, ACT can help anyone who wants to live more meaningfully. This approach is especially helpful if you tend to ruminate in your unhelpful thoughts or find yourself so focused on the day to day, you lose sight of the bigger question, like ‘what do I want my life to stand for?’”
What you’ll get out of it: “Rather than living like you’re playing whack-a-mole where your thoughts and emotions arise and you have to focus on fixing them, you can get clear on what matters alongside ways to commit to your intentions.”
If most of your issues tend to exist within your relationship, Dr. Bruett tells us how couples therapy, another one of his areas of expertise, works.
How it works: “I think couples therapy works best when you can share more of your authentic self with your partner. We all come into relationships with baggage from our childhood and stories from our past failed attempts at romance,” he says. “Through effective couples therapy, you can let go of resentments, repair hurt feelings, and increase intimacy. You can bring more of yourself to your relationship in a safe and structured environment.”
Who it works for: “Couples therapy can be a lifesaver for partners that are dealing with a betrayal or cheating of some kind. It can also be useful if you want to reignite the spark or let go of past resentments. Whether there’s a lot of conflict or you’re both avoiding conflict, couples therapy can help you find a more constructive pattern of communicating.”
What you’ll get out of it: “Effective couples therapy can change your relationship in unbelievable ways,” he says. “Oftentimes, it takes a crisis or ultimatum to bring couples into counseling. It doesn’t have to be that way.”