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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jennifer McGinness

What Are the Different Types of Therapy and Which One is Right for You?

types of therapy

When looking for therapy services, it can be difficult to know where to start. There’s a myriad of providers, modalities, and settings to choose from when you are exploring therapeutic options. Sometimes, the choices can be so overwhelming that you feel even more anxious than when you began. You may even want to give up. Below is a quick guide to types of therapy and therapeutic settings. For more information on choosing a provider, check out my post Choosing Mental Health & Support Professionals (

Types of Therapy Settings 

Outpatient Therapy 

Outpatient therapy is what most people think of when they think of therapy. Outpatient therapy is typically once a week and one-on-one with an individual therapist. Other outpatient services include marriage or couples counseling, family therapy, and therapy groups. 

Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) 

Intensive outpatient therapy is often multiple times per week for several hours and generally includes a group therapy component. It may also include family therapy sessions and the ability to contact a therapist or counselor after hours. IOP therapy may also serve as a step-down option between inpatient and outpatient therapy. 

Inpatient Therapy

Inpatient therapy takes place in a hospital setting where individuals receive support 24 hours a day. Inpatient therapy typically involves long-term care, lasting weeks to months. Common concerns addressed in inpatient therapy are eating disorders, symptoms of psychosis (e.g., hallucinations and delusions), addiction, and recurrent suicidal ideation. 

Crisis Stabilization 

Crisis stabilization services may be accessed at a local hospital and generally involve a short-term stay (i.e., several days) at a crisis stabilization unit or facility. Oftentimes, those who access crisis stabilization resources are experiencing thoughts of hurting themselves or others and need immediate access to care.  

types of therapy

Types of Therapy

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy involves meeting one-on-one with a therapist. In some circumstances, individual therapists may suggest including loved ones in therapy sessions to address specific concerns or to support the individual. However, this is different from family therapy or couples therapy in which the family or couple is considered the client rather than the individual. 

Family Therapy 

Family therapy may involve a family unit or certain members of the family to address family dynamics, communication, and conflict. Family therapy may be recommended in conjunction with individual therapy. For example, if a child is in therapy, the parents and additional family members may be encouraged to attend family sessions to strengthen communication and explore the roles of each family member. 

Couples/Marital Therapy 

Couples and marital therapy focuses on addressing romantic relationship concerns such as trust, communication, intimacy and conflict resolution.  

Group Therapy 

Group therapy involves one or more group therapists or facilitators and three or more group members. Group therapy often centers around a common theme or concern such as social skills or chronic illness. Therapy groups fall into one of the following categories:

  • Psychoeducation Groups: These groups involve learning and practicing a specific set of skills, such as parenting skills or tools for managing ADHD. 

  • Process Groups: Process groups focus on a certain theme such as grief or addiction and encourage group members to share and discuss personal experiences related to these topics. 

types of therapy

Approaches to Therapy

There are many approaches to therapy based on evidence-based theories. These theories, or “theoretical orientations” are the therapist’s toolboxes for promoting client growth and positive change. Each of these theories include mechanisms for building the client-therapist relationship and skills for clients to implement in their lives. Below is a guide to some of the common evidence-based approaches to therapy. By far the most common approach is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and approaches derived from CBT. These include Trauma Focused CBT (TF-CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT),  and  CBT’s “third wave” methods including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).  However, many clinicians implement tools from multiple approaches to meet each individual client’s unique needs. There are many other approaches besides the ones listed below, but the following list will help you become familiar with common approaches you may see listed on therapists' websites. 

Common Theoretical Orientations & Approaches

Cognitive Therapies 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is centered around the principle that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected and therefore, adjusting thoughts can cause emotional and behavioral change. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT (pronounced “act”) involves identifying personal values and making choices that align with these values. Furthermore, ACT challenges the view that painful emotions are negative and instead, encourages individuals to view painful emotions as appropriate responses to difficult situations.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is based on the principle that throughout life, individuals are faced with opposing viewpoints. For example, a person can love their father but also resent him. Through DBT therapy, clients navigate these opposing realities or “dialectics” and gain skills to address life’s most difficult challenges. 

Psychoanalytic & Psychodynamic Approaches

Psychoanalytic: Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on exploring unconscious mental processes and defense mechanisms. 

Psychodynamic: Psychodynamic therapy is an extension of traditional psychoanalysis and utilizes self-reflection to explore emotions and relationships with the self and others.  

Other Approaches

Person-Centered: A person-centered or client-centered approach explores the individual’s experience of themself and the world around them in an accepting and judgment-free environment. Many other approaches utilize principles from Person-Centered therapy such as unconditional positive regard for clients, demonstration of empathy, and therapist authenticity. 

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): Unsurprisingly, IPT focuses on strengthening interpersonal functioning. Components of IPT include addressing relationship conflict, navigating life changes, exploring grief and loss, and initiating and maintaining healthy relationships. 

Narrative Therapy: Narrative therapy is an approach that allows clients to view their concerns from an externalized perspective (i.e., viewing mental health difficulties as separate from the self). 

Behavioral Therapy

Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP): ERP or simply "exposure therapy" is often used to address symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) by building tolerance to distressing thoughts and experiences. Tolerance is developed through gradual exposure to anxiety provoking situations. 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA is a type of therapy used for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA utilizes positive reinforcement (i.e., reward systems) to develop and maintain desired behaviors such as living skills and use of language.   

types of therapy

Therapy for Trauma 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): EMDR provides the individual with the opportunity to process distressing memories in a new setting. While exploring memories in therapy, the client is guided through eye movements with the goal of stimulating the brain and changing how the mind responds to triggers.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT is a 12-session therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involving exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to trauma. The goal of CPT is to restructure trauma-related thoughts and identify helpful and accurate thoughts. 

Trauma-focused CBT (TF-CBT): TF-CBT is a therapy for children who have endured a traumatic experience (e.g., natural disaster, serious accident, sexual abuse, neglect, physical abuse). TF-CBT provides a space for children to process and contextualize traumatic experiences after learning skills to cope with painful memories, intense emotions, and intrusive thoughts.

types of therapy

If you feel your child needs additional support, connecting with a therapist is a great place to start! When looking for therapy services, ask questions about therapy settings and approaches that may be a good fit for your child and family.


At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting teens and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!


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