Clinically reviewed by Dr. Chris Mosunic, PhD, RD, CDCES, MBA

What are the 3 main types of therapy? 

By Vivian Nunez

And when could these different types be used?

As more people become curious about therapy, it isn’t just “therapy” they’re asking questions about. Before long, what they really want to know is, "What kind of therapy worked for you?"

Our goal is to walk you through the most researched types of therapies that are commonly practiced so that if you’re exploring therapy for the first time or revisiting it after a break, you won’t feel frazzled or overwhelmed. 

But before we dive into the what, let’s look at the who. 

According to the CDC, the percentage of adults who sought mental health treatment increased from 19.2% to 21.6% from 2019 to 2021. In the 18-44 age group, women were more likely to seek mental health treatment than men. 

Since the pandemic, the demand for therapists has increased so much that there’s an actual shortage of therapists in some states. (It’s like trying to get eggs and toilet paper all over again.) 

In order to find the right therapist for you, it’s best to know exactly what you need to be looking for. 

What is psychotherapy? 

Psychotherapy is the umbrella for all kinds of talk therapies. Whenever a friend mentions they’re going to see a therapist or counselor, they are probably talking about a psychotherapist. 

Some classic TV and movie scenes show therapy as one size fits all. The expectation is that there’s a dimly lit room with a long couch (where the patient lays down) and a leather chair (where the therapist sits). The therapist asks the patient about their mother, and that’s where the crying starts. 

While this may still be some people’s experience with therapy, social media and video apps have changed how therapy is practiced and perceived. It’s normal now to never leave your house to talk to your therapist — they’re a text or video call away. 

What are some common types of psychotherapies? 

While some parts of therapy are out with the old and in with the new, the heart of therapy remains pretty much the same. Your therapist is practicing a specific kind of modality that’s been developed over decades of research and practice. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? 

According to studies, CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy is a “problem-oriented” therapy. It’ll help anyone who needs to connect the dots between their behavior, thoughts, and feelings so that they have more awareness and feel a deeper sense of power over their actions and thoughts. 

According to NAMI, if your therapist uses a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you can expect them to encourage you to challenge unhealthy habits and try to replace them with healthier alternatives.

While therapy is all about the long game, studies have found that CBT does lead to noticeable improvements in day-to-day life. 

What conditions does CBT support? 

CBT can help individuals who are struggling with mental illnesses like, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, known as ACT, is kind of like the yoga of therapies. It is a kind of psychotherapy where therapists are focused on helping their patients develop more “psychological flexibility.” 

Through the lens of ACT, psychological flexibility refers to a person’s ability to more easily accept and commit to the more inevitable parts of life without being devastated by them psychologically. For instance, ACT equips someone to deal with pain, grief, anxiety, or other ups and downs that come with being a human being in healthier, more positive ways. 

What conditions does ACT support? 

ACT is an expansive therapy that treats more than one kind of psychological and physical condition. Instead of focusing on just BPD or depression, for instance, it’s used to help people navigate many mental health issues or even physical conditions, like chronic illness or cancer. 

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy? 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is all about self-love and self-acceptance. You can expect a therapist who uses DBT to encourage you to practice self-acceptance while simultaneously pouring effort into changing specific behaviors or thoughts. 

According to Columbia University, DBT is made up of 4 key components: 

  • Mindfulness — practicing being present with oneself in the here and now 
  • Distress tolerance — learning how to tolerate triggers that would have historically led to unhealthy behaviors 
  • Interpersonal effectiveness — developing tools that allow a person to stand their ground and create new healthy behaviors so that they can develop healthier relationships 
  • Emotional regulation — finding ways to honor feelings and act on them in healthier ways 

What conditions does DBT support? 

DBT was first developed as a treatment for women who had borderline personality disorder (“BPD”) and were suicidal. It is still primarily used as a treatment for those with BPD and who struggle with suicidal thoughts. Studies have also found that DBT can support women who have BPD and live with substance abuse disorders, as well as those who struggle with eating disorders and other conditions.  

These are three examples of a wide range of psychotherapies that are available for therapists and patients. Even with a shortage of therapists, we hope this knowledge will help you find one that makes sense for you and what you’re going through. And no matter what type of therapy you choose, the most important thing is that you have a sense of connection and feel supported by your therapist. This is the “therapeutic alliance,” and if it’s strong, it’s the most predictive measure of a positive therapeutic experience, even more so than the type of therapy you choose!

Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.

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Our programs are created by licensed psychologists, and you can explore them at your own pace, in any order you like.

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