top of page
  • Writer's pictureGOCaC

What are the Four Main Types of Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy seems like such a mystery when first introduced to patients and Psychotherapists in Milwaukee alike, but it can quickly be understood and divided into smaller areas of study or practice – creating a far better understanding of how it can be used to treat mental illness or afflictions.

Though many believe the term psychotherapy emphasizes one method of psychology, there are many different types of psychotherapy and at a base level the study is defined as the treatment of mental disorder by psychological rather than medical means. While psychotherapists can and will rely on medical aids like medication, the majority of the work is done within the mind and external actions of the person receiving treatment. That treatment varies in many ways depending on the person's afflictions. Some researchers estimate that there may be between 400 to 500 different psychotherapy modalities. ​As astounding as that may seem, most of these derivations fall into one of four broad categories of psychotherapy which include Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, Psychodynamic Therapies, Existential-Humanistic Therapies, and Systemic Therapies. Psychodynamic Therapies Psychodynamic Therapy is the first broad category that psychotherapy modalities align with. This form of therapy aims to change the behavior, thoughts, and emotions. However, unlike Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, Psychodynamic Therapies focus on motives and unconscious drives that may be the cause of faulty thinking. Most people outside of the profession of Psychology picture Psychodynamic Therapy as an act in which a therapist takes notes and analyzes a subject as they reveal deep secrets while lying on a sofa or lounge chair, this is only one type of psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic Therapies are also linked back to the Psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud​​, which is why most individuals are familiar with its practices. While this talk and analyze form of therapy has influenced many other types of Psychodynamic Therapies, Freud’s famous practices are considered the first of their kind. Freud assumed that we as humans didn’t know or fully understand our motivations, so psychoanalysis served as a historical reconstruction that allowed patients to experience repressed feelings, memories, and unconscious thoughts using free association and dream analysis. This self discovery is paired with interpretations from the psychotherapist until patients gain some self insight. To be truly effective, psychoanalysis requires extensive and frequent sessions, even up to four to five times a week. Popularized practices by Carl Jung, Karen Hornet, and Alfred Adler have created variations in the school of psychodynamics.

Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapies Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapy focuses on people’s abilities to make choices and develop their potential. Like Psychodynamic therapies, Existential-Humanistic therapies vary by form. The two most commonly known variations of this therapy include Gestalt therapy and client-centered therapy. Unlike Psychodynamic therapies, Existential-Humanistic therapies focus more on the present and the future rather than the past. Championed by Karl Rogers, Victor Frankle, and Fritz Pearls, the Humanistic school of therapies focus on the patient’s inherent capacity for making rational choices, achieving self-acceptance, and maintaining their maximum potential. Like psychodynamic therapy, it is still insight oriented but its focus is on promoting growth rather than curing mental illness. This goal is apparent in the practice of referring to the subject as clients rather than patients. Client-centered therapy ​​takes this a step further with a focus on creating an empathetic, genuine, and accepting environment while using active listening. While this environment is used to nurture the aspect of self-actualization and discovery, Existentialism comes into play by pushing the client to understand that some motivations are driven by an overwhelming fear of existence and mortality. This practice helps maximize potential by overcoming these existential fears. Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies The third broad category of psychotherapy is Cognitive and Behavioral therapies, though they can be considered two different modalities all together. For this reason they are examined more in-depth here. These types of therapies are rooted in the study and practices of infamous psychologists like Ivan P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and Edward Throndike. As with the work of these great influencers, Cognitive and Behavioral therapy focuses on learning or reinforcing positive and productive behaviors​ ​as well as ridding the patient of incorrect, inappropriate, or disruptive habits.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral Therapy focuses on how we think, how we are stimulated and motivated by the world around us, and on our cognitive processes. Most of all, this is based on the idea that faulty thinking or cognitive distortions can result in anxiety or mood disorders. Behavioral therapists argue that the problem behavior is the actual issue rather than a symptom. They theorize the best way to rid a client of the unwanted behavior is to replace it with functional behaviors with new learning and conditioning. For example, a behavioral therapist may suggest to someone who is experiencing a fear of rejection to place themselves in situations where they may be comforted with rejection – balancing this act with some sort of reward or stimuli to reinforce the completion of the task. Behavioral therapists utilize positive or negative reinforcement, counter conditioning, exposure, systematic desensitization, or adverse conditioning to modify unwanted reactions and behaviors. This is done through simple actions rather than reliving the past as Psychodynamic therapies tend to encourage. Cognitive Therapy Cognitive therapies teach people new and more adaptive ways of thinking rather than focusing on the individual’s actions, responses, and symptoms. Headed by great minds like Aaron Beck, Cognitive Therapy utilizes techniques like the Socratic Questioning Method to reverse catastrophic beliefs about the self, world, and the future at large. Patients under Cognitive Therapy confront ideas or realities of failure to understand that things can go wrong. But, the patient is conditioned to understand that it is a natural part of life. This in turn promotes positive thinking and influences taking action for oneself and future. Cognitive therapies operate under the understanding that changing what we say to ourselves is an effective way to cope with our anxieties and modify our behavior. ​ As previously mentioned, cognitive modalities are frequently paired with Behavioral therapies. This combination is organically creating a new combined school of therapy that is now known as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies. Systemic Therapies The fourth and last broad category of psychotherapy is Systemic Therapy. Therapies that follow this category focus not only on the individual, like it’s other category counterparts, but on the individual’s interpersonal system. For example, how they relate to others in their life and how they build relationships. With that said, it is important to note that group therapy – though not considered a school of study or psychotherapeutic modality – has been gaining popularity as psychology experts continue to see the increased therapeutic benefits from group interactions. Group therapy not only helps with the social aspects of psychotherapy, but also creates a support system for clients, patients, and subjects. In a very similar way, family therapy also helps establish support systems and promotes understanding of the baselines of familiar interactions and influences. Within the Systemic Therapies, relationships come into play where an individual, partnership, or party are working towards a positive outcome in their interpersonal relationships. Which therapy is most effective? While there are individual psychotherapies and four broad categories of psychotherapy in general, many treatments focus on, or incorporate, more than one modality. For example, exposure therapies in particular have been increasingly useful for PTSD, but require additional aid outside of less complex phobias and mental illness. Afflictions like schizophrenia are still being studied, but Cognitive-Behavioral therapies and Existential-Humanistic therapies have both contributed to recent improvements in treatment.

Growth Oriented Counseling & Consulting (GOCaC) will provide you with a qualified Psychotherapist in Milwaukee. We will develop a plan of action on an individual or person-by-person basis while accounting for the needs and the underlying issues that the patient may be coping with.

44 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page