If you’ve made the decision to look into therapy, you might be asking yourself, “where do I even begin?” Well, you’re not alone. The process of finding the right therapist and the right therapeutic approach can feel overwhelming. In fact, you may begin not knowing that the therapeutic approach will impact the progress you make in therapy. Why? Mental health professionals operate from a variety of techniques (and styles), and it’s important to explore the systems of treatment as you begin the task of selecting a therapist. Let’s take a deeper look at the therapeutic approaches most commonly used so that you can make an informed decision.
Start the process by asking yourself what you are expecting from therapy. Would you prefer an analytical process, in which you’ll learn techniques for changing behaviors, or simply be able to talk freely with gentle guidance and acceptance? Therapy is a highly personal process, and naturally, you’ll want a therapist that’s most effective for you.
Many therapists will blend various therapeutic techniques to customize an approach that works for each client. Your therapy should feel comfortable to you - understanding how different therapies operate will help you determine how to meet those needs.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (also called CBT) is highly analytical and examines the impact of both your thoughts and your actions. The cognitive side centers on how thoughts influence mood and actions, while the behavioral aspect focuses on actions and learning strategies to modify problematic behaviors. It’s based on understanding your thought process or behaviors in the present and identifying how dysfunctional patterns in these areas may contribute to a larger life problem. By gaining awareness of these thought patterns, you can work with your therapist to change them. Cognitive behavioral therapists work on the premise that you can change your feelings by changing your thoughts and actions.
If you find yourself troubled by negative self-talk, self-defeating habits or automatic responses that don’t match your actual goals, CBT might work well for you - it teaches you to recognize these patterns as they emerge and make different choices. The "behavior" component refers to learning and practicing more productive responses to distressing circumstances or feelings, such as relaxing and breathing deeply instead of hyperventilating when in an anxiety-provoking situation. Sessions are highly structured - you and your therapist work together as a team to identify and change faulty thoughts and actions. In turn, you’ll be encouraged to work on it daily with homework assignments when you’re not in session – say, keeping a journal of negative thoughts, their context and what triggered them. The work you do in between sessions is key to your progress.
Behavioral therapy adopts the philosophy that, if you change your problematic behavior, you will see a positive change in thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others. The idea is to change your actions to get a different result that’s more in line with your goals. Healthline defines this therapeutic approach as one that seeks to identify and help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors. It functions on the idea that all behaviors are learned and that unhealthy behaviors can be changed. The focus of treatment is often on current problems and how to change them.
This concept uses positive reinforcement and motivation to pinpoint and improve problematic patterns of behavior. It's common for behavioral therapy to be incorporated into sessions when working with interpersonal, relationship, and emotional issues. Many times, your therapist will guide you with relaxation and “pause” techniques (such as breathing exercises) so that you can take a moment and make a better choice of words or actions when you are in the midst of your distressing situation. Here is where you’ll find Anger Management Therapy, Conflict-Resolution Therapy, and various treatments for impulse control and addiction.
For a deep dive into your “whys”, Psychodynamic Therapy focuses on how life events, desires, and past and current relationships affect your feelings and the choices you make. This therapeutic approach is based on the idea that our behavior and feelings as adults are rooted in our childhood experiences. Relationships (particularly parenting) are of primary importance in determining how we feel and behave. You’ll be going all the way back to the beginning when working within this concept. In this type of therapy, you and your therapist identify the compromises you've made to defend yourself against painful thoughts or emotions - much of which you may not realize you are doing. Psychodynamic therapies focus on this unconscious process by having you talk freely about your thoughts or feelings, and it aims to delve into memories that might yield a better understanding of present problems.
Humanistic Therapy is a client-centered approach that emphasizes unconditional acceptance from the therapist and the free expression of the client. With this approach, you are encouraged to openly express what is affecting you as you work with the therapist to find meaning and understanding of your emotions, without as much analysis. The therapist provides little authority or direction. Instead, he or she offers subtle guidance and encourages the client to take control of their destiny. This therapeutic approach is helpful when untangling issues with gender identity, LGBTQ lifestyle, or any other situation in which you could be questioning yourself and your value. It’s also very helpful for grief counseling and coping with a loss of any kind. Because the therapist focuses on you and your feelings, you’ll be able to talk freely and feel validated and accepted.
No matter which therapeutic approach sounds most appropriate for you, the match between you and the therapist may be as important as the strategy he or she uses. That is - you want to feel comfortable and put your mental health in the right person’s hands. Let reflect help you connect with your best match, with the top network of trusted professionals in the Bay Area. Our 55-point matching system helps us to get a good therapeutic match the first time. 90% of reflect therapy clients find a therapist they like and we are ready to help you find the right match for you as well.