Therapy can encompass a wide range of treatments, so when you’re looking for help it can seem overwhelming.
There are so many options available, so understanding the different types of therapy and what each targets is a useful place to start.
Take some time to explore the options before you begin your journey. Here you'll find information on:
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- existential therapy
- family therapy
- art therapy
- eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
If you’re interested in trying therapy make sure you do some research. There are pros and cons to every treatment and what works for someone else might not work for you.
Counselling is a type of talking therapy that can help you deal with a variety of emotional issues. ‘Counselling’ can be used as an umbrella term for many talking therapies, but it's also a specific type of therapy in itself.
Counselling can be used to help you with:
- mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder
- physical health conditions that you may find upsetting, such as infertility
- challenging life events, including a bereavement, a relationship breakdown or work-related stress
- difficult emotions, for example, low self-esteem or anger
- other issues, including sexual identity
Counselling involves talking about your feelings and the challenges you're facing with a professionally qualified, trained therapist. If you live in the UK, you can find a qualified therapist through the Professional Standards Authority.
Your therapist isn’t there to give you advice or tell you what to do. Instead, they'll help you to understand your thought processes and enable you to find your own solutions to your problems.
There are different ways to receive counselling, and face to face counselling isn’t the only option. You can receive counselling over the phone, via email, in a group setting, or even through live chat services online.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an increasingly popular form of therapy, and an effective treatment option for anxiety and low mood disorders.
It can also be used to treat:
- panic attacks
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- some eating disorders
CBT is based on the idea that there is a connection between your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions. This means the way you think about a situation can impact how you feel and consequently behave.
CBT aims to give you tools to stop negative thinking patterns, which can change the way you feel about situations and, in turn, how you act.
Like counselling, CBT can be delivered in different ways. It can be done one-to-one, in a group, through a self-help book, or with an online course.
Everyone is different, so find a method that works for you.
Existential therapy is a form of psychotherapy that addresses inner conflict and concerns about life in general.
It’s useful for anyone with existential concerns - such as fear of time passing - because it helps you to confront your anxieties about life and teaches you to deal with life’s problems.
The themes typically explored in existential therapy are:
- freedom and responsibility
Existential therapy aims to help you face these issues and to recognise the freedom of choice you have. Through honest self-examination, existential therapy helps you to find meaning in your life.
Family therapy is different from other types of therapy because it looks at the family unit as a whole, rather than focusing on individuals. It explores the relationships between family members and helps them to understand each others’ experiences.
It can be useful for families - alongside other mental health treatment - in cases where:
- a relative has a serious mental illness
- a relative suffers from addiction
- family members are experiencing stress, grief, anger, or conflict
The purpose of family therapy is to navigate the sometimes complex thoughts and emotions which occur in a family setting. It can help you gain a better understanding of each family member’s needs and views.
Family therapy also aims to strengthen relationships by reflecting on the importance of those relationships and finding ways to make meaningful changes.
Family therapy will usually involve analysing how your family communicates, and how they deal with challenges.
It will also look at family roles and behaviour patterns to establish where there are issues. Lastly, family therapy will highlight your family’s positive attributes as well as areas that need improvement.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy which uses the creative process of making art to explore and communicate issues, feelings, and emotions.
It may be useful for people with:
- emotional, behavioural, or mental health problems
- learning or physical disabilities
- life-limiting conditions
- neurological conditions
- physical illnesses
This therapy uses art as a way to express emotions that individuals may find upsetting or confusing.
The aim of art therapy is to provide a safe space to express your emotions without fear of judgement. Everyone will have a different experience of art therapy, but it’s a useful tool to help you process your emotions and resolve complicated and conflicting feelings.
Art therapy can take many forms, but it always centres on your needs. It can be done individually or as part of a group.
If you’re interested in art therapy, you might also be interested in drama therapy or music therapy. You can find more information about the different creative therapies available at Mind, a UK-based mental health charity.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of talking therapy specifically developed to help people who have experienced traumatic events. It's most commonly used to treat people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
People with PTSD often have recurring thoughts, memories, nightmares, and flashbacks of the traumatic event.
EMDR involves your therapist asking you to think about the traumatic event while following the movement of your therapist’s finger, side to side, with your eyes.
This can help you to process the traumatic memories so they become less upsetting.
As EMDR requires you to remember traumatic events it can be a distressing process. It’s therefore important that you have a good support system of friends and family.
Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to treat conditions or simply change habits. Hypnosis is used to induce a deep state of relaxation during which you work towards your agreed goal with your therapist.
Hypnotherapy doesn’t work for everyone, but some people find it an effective way to deal with stress and anxiety.
It can be used for issues, such as:
- pain management
- changing habits, like healthy eating or quitting smoking
- side effects of cancer treatment
- sleep problems
- mental health conditions, such as depression, phobias and PTSD
That said, more research is needed to draw full conclusions about the impact of hypnotherapy on these conditions.
During a hypnotherapy session you and your therapist will talk about what your goals for therapy are, and together you'll agree on what methods your therapist will use.
It’s important to remember that you can only be hypnotised if you want to be. You're always in control, even when you are under hypnosis. This means you don’t have to take your therapist’s suggestions, and you can bring yourself out of a hypnotic state whenever you want.
Hypnotherapy isn’t suitable for everyone, and it shouldn’t be used if you have psychosis. Check with your doctor before trying hypnotherapy if you have a personality disorder.
There are many types of therapy, and it’s important to find the one that’s best for you.
Do your research and don’t be discouraged if the first therapy you try isn’t the right fit. Take time to find the right therapy, as well as a therapist who you like and trust.
You might like to talk to your doctor about what treatment is best for you, particularly if you have any underlying conditions. They may also be able to refer you to a suitable service.
If you’re curious about other types of therapy that weren’t mentioned here try the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s A-Z of therapeutic approaches, or you can use our Self-Assessment Tool to gain more insight into your mental health.