Therapeutic Approaches

Therapeutic Approaches to Psychotherapy

Therapists use a wide variety of approaches and techniques to help facilitate the clients change.  Each approach has a particular theoretical basis to provide a foundation of understanding the client and their problem.  As it is with human beings our personalities, family structure, environmental histories are highly individual.  What may be an effective therapy or an effective therapist for one may not be as effective for another.  Therapy is one part scientific theoretical approach and one part art of connection.  When you look for a therapist always remember you are hiring a person to provide to you a service.  In the delivery of this service you not only want your goal met but you want to feel a connection to the therapist. Research has shown over and again it is the connection between therapist and client which facilitates the greatest change and or satisfaction with the therapeutic process. As you look at the following approaches ask yourself what ideas seem to resonate with you.  Becoming aware of your therapeutic options is imperative to seeking out the best therapist to help you meet your treatment goals.

Behavior therapy

Behavior therapy  focuses on setting up a system of rewards and punishments to change thinking patterns and  behavior.  Therapists using Behavioral techniques Help clients learn   how to obtain more rewards through their own actions and how to unlearn the behaviors that contribute to, or result from, their problems.  The therapist helps to note which behaviors are disruptive in a client's life.  By setting up specific processes to either reward new adaptive behaviors or punish old maladaptive behaviors, the client can understand there is a cause effect relationship between behaviors and the problem.  Behavioral therapy can  be applied to compulsive behavior, problems in childhood  and anxiety related conditions.

An example of Behavioral therapy would include using a coin jar with a family who would like to reduce the amount of foul language the family utters.  The family makes the commitment who ever uses the specified foul language will put for example .25 in the jar.  At the end of the period of time agreed by the family that money would be used for a family outing.  The punishment of putting the money in the jar and the constant family vigilance on the unwanted behavior helps to eliminate the behavior.  The reward of using the money on a family event helps to increase positive family relationships.

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy seeks to identify and correct thinking patterns.  Cognitive theory understands faulty or irrational beliefs and expectations can create negative personal experiences..  Those beliefs and expectations are explored to identify how they effect a person's experiences. If a belief or expectation appears to be causing difficulties, the therapist helps the client reshape or challenge it.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) utilizes both  behavioral theory and cognitive theory.  Cognitive-behavioral therapy identifies troubling behavior and the irrational beliefs associated with those behaviors.  The popularity and effectiveness of the approach is in it emphasis on both the specific problem behaviors as well as the negative thought patterns associated with those behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used therapy's particularly to assist those clients with mood related disorders.  As one of the most studied therapeutic interventions, CBT has demonstrated a high rate of effectiveness.   The approach has an educational feel.   Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be conducted in groups or in a workbook form.  Many clients feel comfortable learning a new technique as they would learn something in school.


An Eclectic approach utilizes a variety of techniques designed with the clients individual needs in mind.  More and more therapists broaden their understanding and skill utilizing several different approaches to reach a greater number of clients with efficiency. It is this approach where the therapist will utilize differnt approaches to find something that is best suited for the individual's problem or perspective.


Gestalt therapy is about the here and now.  The approach helps the client become more self- aware and become more responsible for personal thoughts, feelings and actions. Gestalt therapy assists the client in developing an internal reliance on themselves as opposed to building up greater support in others.  Popular Gestalt techniques include role-playing, and the empty-chair exercise.  The purpose of these exercises is to create an internal dialogue thus resolving internal conflict.


Psychodynamic  treatment helps a person  discover and understand emotional conflicts.  These conflicts can lead the client to increased mood disturbances or behavioral problems.  The therapist   helps the client to "uncover" unconscious motivations, unresolved problems from childhood, and early patterns to resolve issues. Psychodynamic therapy tends to be a longer term treatment.  The intent of the therapy is to increase self awareness and to gain understanding and a different frame of reference regarding unresolved issues. 


American Psychological Association

National Association of Social Workers

National Institute of Mental Health
National Mental Health Association