Different approaches to therapy and how they can help

Louis Hugheson 14 March 2023
Man in therapist's office with his hands over his face

Self-improvement is a constant journey and if you’re thinking some therapy could help, there are loads of different approaches to consider.

If you’re considering trying therapy for the first time, it may seem daunting trying to choose which one to go for due to the staggering amount of choices that exist. Therapy is more of a trial-and-error kind of process, everyone's issues are unique and different people will benefit from different approaches. So if you’ve tried one type of therapy and it didn’t work out, just try another form and maybe things will work out better. :)

Universities will often offer various mental health services such as counselling and emergency helplines, which you as a student are able to use freely, although each university has different policies on how they will help, make sure to contact them and find out what they can do for you!

Here’s a look at some of the common therapies available:

What is humanistic therapy?

Humanistic therapy is largely led by you as the patient, with a therapist guiding you on a path of self-actualisation. Their aim is to free people from disabling assumptions about themselves and others in order to encourage growth as a person, allowing them to lead a fuller and happier life.

In your sessions, you will be discussing your perception of the world and any issues you are struggling with. For the majority of the time, your therapist will allow you to express your views and accept your belief but will sometimes intervene to offer guidance and advice.

Humanistic therapists work with a very broad spectrum of methods to help you lead a happier life. They may take a philosophical approach where they get you to discover what the point of life is and what it means to you, aiming for you to find greater meaning in life. Therapists could also go down the route of helping you to discover self-awareness by discussing unresolved long-term issues such as breakdowns in relationships and considering the impact of them on your mental state. 

Humanistic therapy is great for people who may have lost their spark or feel overwhelmed by certain issues in their life. 

What is cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT)?

Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to change how you behave in certain environments, it’s an active process in which you learn to control your emotions and decrease your sensitivity to certain triggers. It doesn’t focus on the unconscious causes of your behaviour, instead, it changes your reactions to distressing events.

It can work by gradually exposing you to what triggers you by slowly building up to it. It uses relaxation techniques whilst putting you in difficult scenarios, in the hope that you will then feel relaxed instead of anxious when the trigger presents itself outside of therapy.

You can also use aversion techniques, where you learn to associate your behavioural issues with an uncomfortable stimulus. For example, you will be put into a situation where you display your behavioural issue, but, it will be treated with something that deters patients from reacting like this again. This could be a small electric shock or a nausea-inducing drug.

Over time this association should lead to patients resisting behaving how they did before. This is great for people with compulsive behaviours or addictions.

What is psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy explores the connection between your unconscious mind and active thoughts and behaviours. Therapists aim to uncover the cause of your troubles by analysing your past (childhood traumas, relationship failures, traumatic experiences etc.) and trying to uncover any links between past events and how you currently feel now. 

Once they find the root of your problems, therapists can then aid you in combating distress. This type of therapy is often a long-term solution to your issues and is great for the biggest problems in your life. Not only this but patients can find comfort in having a reason for being the way that they are, understanding that it’s not their fault they feel a certain way.

What is dialectical behavioural therapy(DBT)?

DBT is similar to CBT in the sense that it uses similar skills, like gradually exposing you to triggers and using aversion techniques, but it differs because the main goal of DBT is to prioritise acceptance and emotional regulation. It was developed to help people cope with extreme or unstable emotions and harmful behaviours. 

DBT also has a strong emphasis on validation, it aims to teach you that the emotions you feel are ok and that you need to accept yourself for who you are regardless of prior challenges. Once patients see that their emotions are validated and feel accepted by their therapist, they begin to show significant levels of improvement and can learn to live with their emotions. This treatment is best for people who struggle to keep their emotions under control and are disproportionately overwhelmed. 

What is counselling?

Counselling is when you talk to a therapist who is there to listen to your problems and help you work through them. Counsellors are often better equipped than friends or family to deal with people's struggles because they have undergone professional training and have a greater understanding of many psychological problems. Most people find comfort in confiding in counsellors rather than loved ones due to the fact that they’ll have no judgement on you or your life and will treat you professionally. 

Some people struggle to talk to loved ones in complete honesty, and will often leave out parts which they believe are too deep or make them look bad. They therefore may not feel fulfilled when talking about their feelings. When talking to a counsellor, people are more inclined to be completely honest, which will lead to greater improvements in their mental health in the future.

It’s important to remember that therapy isn’t for everyone, for some it will work and for others it will have no effect, and that's ok. If you are struggling with anything make sure to reach out to those around you. It’s ok not to be ok. Every problem is fixable, sometimes it's just difficult to find the right solution.

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Louis Hugheson 14 March 2023