There are several different ways that a therapist might approach helping you. Some of the most common therapy approaches include:


Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy focus on helping people change by identifying their unconscious thoughts and feelings. They also look at how the relationship between patient and therapist may resemble other relationships in a person’s life. By exploring this relationship, patients can learn about themselves and develop healthier behaviors with others.

Behavior Therapy

This approach is common when working with people with anxiety disorders. Therapists using this type of approach examine what happens before, during, and after a person’s behavior and then use specific interventions to change that behavior. Exposure therapy is one type of behavior therapy where a therapist exposes a person to something anxiety-provoking (such as an escalator in the case of a phobia of heights). When a person is experiencing anxiety, the therapist helps him or her cope using relaxation techniques. Exposure can be done in a number of different ways, such as gradually, all at once (flooding), using imagination (imaginal exposure), or in real life (in vivo).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT was developed from behavior therapy and focuses on changing dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs. CBT assumes that thoughts lead to emotions, which leads to behaviors, and you can change people’s emotions and behaviors by changing their thoughts. This approach is effective for treating a number of different conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction.


There are several different approaches that fall within the category of humanistic, such as person-centered, existential, and gestalt. These therapies all share the common goal of self-actualization, which means helping people realize their full potential. For example, person-centered therapy encourages each person’s unique capacity for change by developing a positive therapeutic relationship. Therapists practice unconditional positive regard (non-judgement), empathy, and congruence (therapists are transparent and viewed as fellow humans, rather than experts). Many other forms of therapy, like CBT, use principles of person-centered therapy. Existential therapy assumes that all humans struggle with death, meaning, isolation, and freedom. This approach promotes self-awareness and growth. Gestalt therapy focuses on the present and encourages people to re-enact experiences in-session, rather than simply talk about them.

approaches to therapy

Psychotherapy is a process of self-growth and healing that unfolds when you have a safe, positive, and professional relationship with a therapist. Making the decision to go to psychotherapy is a step on the road to recovery.

For more information on psychotherapy:

American Psychological Association. (2019). Different approaches to psychotherapy.

American Psychological Association. (2019). Protecting your privacy: Understanding confidentiality.

American Psychological Association. (2019). Understanding psychotherapy and how it works