There are many therapy approaches, that it can get overwhelming trying to understand each of them! The truth is, most therapists now practice a combination of these approaches. The big schools of thought in psychology are psychoanalytic / psychodynamic therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (aka CBT).
THE SHORT ANSWER
Psychoanalytic / Psychodynamic therapy: Analyzes how personality and early life experiences and affect the present to make deep-seated changes in your personality and emotional development.
Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT): Recognizes, analyzes, and changes the way you think and/or behave through a structured approach that teaches you new tools.
THE LONG ANSWER
Psychoanalytic / Psychodynamic therapy
“Let’s analyze how personality and early life experiences and affect the present and make deep-seated changes in your personality and emotional development.”
- What to expect: A psychodynamically oriented therapist might ask about your childhood experiences and explore how they may have contributed to current concerns. The first few sessions may consist of you talking about your feelings and background, and the therapist trying to dig deep to better understand what you’re going through and what may have caused those feelings.
When you may want to choose this: You’re interested in self-exploration and understanding yourself at a deeper level, and are willing to devote time and energy to it.
Treatment areas: Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, long-term physical health problems, eating disorders, addictions.
Length: Tends to be gradual and longer-term. You can expect therapies to last from several months to years.
Other: Psychodynamic therapy is a traditional school of therapy, with roots in Sigmund Freud. Most psychodynamically oriented therapists integrate other methods of therapy, but the experience of longer-term, deeper therapy is relatively consistent.
Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT)
“Let’s recognize, analyze, and change the way you think and/or behave through a structured approach that teaches you new tools.”
What to expect: A cognitive behavioral therapist will focus on your current problems while noting how your past may have affected them, and provide practical solutions for you to try. Sessions will be structured, and may involve “homework” assignments.
When you may want to choose this: You’re looking for a therapy that works towards solutions, with clear goals and practical techniques. You have specific concerns, or are trying to overcome a phobia or habit, and can commit to “homework” assignments your therapist may give you.
Treatment areas: Eating disorder, anxiety disorders, mild/moderate depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia.
Length: Tends to be shorter term, such as 8 – 10 sessions.
Other: CBT focuses on reconditioning our thoughts or behavior and assumes that if a certain way of thinking or behaving can be learnt, it can be unlearnt or replaced with a new way of thinking or behaving. For example, an individual can adopt more flexible positive thinking to replace negative thoughts, or learn a new habit to replace an eating disorder. While sessions offer space to explore concerns, assignments outside of sessions will likely have the most impact on changes, so completing these will help you progress quicker and develop more self-confidence.
THE COMPREHENSIVE ANSWER
Wow! You must be a psychology major :) Have you considered being a therapist?
Find a comprehensive explanation of therapy types here.