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Types of Therapy for Mental Health

What is therapy?

Mental health therapy is a way to help you understand yourself better and to cope better. Being in therapy does not mean you are crazy. Everyone has problems. Therapy is one way to help yourself with your problems.


Some of the problems that can be helped with therapy include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • eating disorders
  • sleep problems
  • anger
  • grief

There are many different types of mental health therapies. One kind of therapy might work best for you, such as play therapy for small children, or family therapy for family conflicts. The kind of therapy that is best for you depends on your needs.

What types of mental health therapies are there?

The more common types of therapy are:


Art Therapy. Drawing, painting, or working with clay with an art therapist can help you express things that you may not be able to put into words. Art therapists work with children, teens, and adults, including people with disabilities.


Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy is very structured and goal oriented. It starts with what you are doing now, and then helps you change your behavior. Behavioral therapists may use techniques such as:

  • Exposure therapy or desensitization. First you learn ways to relax. Then you learn to face your fears while you practice these relaxation skills.
  • Aversive therapy. This pairs something unpleasant with a behavior to help you stop the behavior. For example, putting something that tastes bitter on a child's thumb to help stop thumb-sucking.
  • Role-playing. This may help you be more assertive or help resolve conflicts between family members.
  • Self-monitoring, or keeping a log of your daily activities. This may help identify which behaviors are causing you problems.

Biofeedback. This type of therapy can help you learn to control body functions such as muscle tension or heart rate. Biofeedback can help with tension, anxiety, and physical symptoms such as headaches.


Cognitive Therapy. This type of therapy takes the approach that how you think affects how you feel and behave. This therapy helps you recognize unhealthy ways of thinking that keep you stuck. You learn to identify automatic negative thoughts such as:

  • "I never do anything right"
  • "The world is always against me"
  • "If I don't succeed all the time I am a failure."

You learn how to change your thoughts and this can lead to changed behaviors. It can also improve self-esteem and confidence. Cognitive-behavioral therapy combines behavior and cognitive therapy methods.


EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing). In EMDR the therapist helps you cope with feelings and thoughts about distressing past events. You move your eyes back and forth, usually following the therapist's hand or pen, while you recall the event. This type of therapy is considered by many to be experimental.


Family or Couples Therapy. Family therapists view the family as a system. They work with the whole family rather than just one person. The goal is for family members to openly their express feelings and to find ways to change negative family patterns.


Couples therapy helps partners improve their ability to communicate with each other. It may help you decide what changes are needed in the relationship and in the behavior of each partner. Both partners then work to learn new behaviors. There are different forms of couples therapy.


Group Therapy. In group therapy a small number of people (6 to 10) meet regularly with a therapist. There are many types of therapy groups. Some focus on a specific problem such as anger management. Process groups do not focus on a single topic, but instead explore issues raised by members. Short-term groups are problem-focused and meet for a limited time, such as 6 to 12 weeks. Long-term groups deal with ongoing issues such as self-esteem.


Massage Therapy. Massage therapy may help to reduce anxiety and stress.


Medicines. Medicines can help improve your mental well-being. They may be prescribed by a psychiatrist or your healthcare provider. Your provider will work with you to carefully select the right medicine for you. There are many kinds of psychiatric medicines.

  • Antipsychotics may help with psychosis or other conditions.
  • Mood stabilizers may be used to treat mood problems such as bipolar disorder.
  • Antidepressants may help with depression or anxiety.
  • Antianxiety medicines may be prescribed to treat anxiety disorders.

The right medicine may improve symptoms so that other kinds of treatment are more effective. Medicines may also be used alone.


Play Therapy. Play therapy allows children to act out their problems with toys and games. Play therapists help a child feel more confident and less fearful.


Psychoanalytic Therapy. This type of therapy was developed by Sigmund Freud. In this type of therapy, you work to uncover things from your past that affect your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This kind of therapy can take years. It usually involves meeting several times a week. It can be quite costly.


Psychodynamic Therapy. This type of therapy helps you bring your true feelings to the surface. If you repress (purposely forget) or deny painful thoughts, feelings, and memories, they can still affect your life. Once you are aware of these repressed thoughts, feelings, and memories they become less painful. This type of therapy is less intense, less frequent, and doesn't last as long as psychoanalytic therapy.


Psychoeducational Therapy. This type of therapy involves the therapist teaching instead of the client talking. You may learn about disorders, treatment options, and how to cope with symptoms. Therapists may provide you with useful information or may help you learn different skills. They work with individuals and groups.


Relaxation Therapies. Learning ways to relax can help to reduce anxiety and stress. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful.


Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.


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