Whilst in your youth it might have felt like the only people in therapy were the stars of American sitcoms and reality TV shows, as conversations have opened up, stigmas and taboos have lessened and mental health has moved to the forefront of discussion in healthcare, suddenly being in regular therapy feels both achievable and desirable.
If life, with its complex relationships, responsibilities and nuances wasn’t challenging enough, throw in a 2-year long global pandemic and suddenly the need for support in your day-to-day ups and downs has increased tenfold, yet again.
Recognising a need for therapy is one thing, but knowing where to start in finding someone to support you, and even which therapeutic style is right for you is a whole other ball game. Despite feeling overwhelming, finding the right person for you shouldn’t be a deterrent to your MH self-care practices, because life can change exponentially for the better once you have the right support systems in place, we promise. If you’ve been considering exploring therapy for the first time, or are well versed in CBT but considering a different avenue of support, keep reading for a lesson in therapy 101, and all you need to get started on your journey…
The difference between psychotherapy and counselling
Before delving into which approach is right for you, it’s important to be able to differentiate between therapy and counselling, for which you’d be forgiven for assuming they are the same thing!
Counselling is typically offered on a shorter-term basis, and focuses on identifying and implementing potential solutions to a current issue or problem. A counsellor’s job is not to delve into the past and develop an in-depth understanding of your life and psychological history, but rather to assist you in developing solutions to a current roadblock.
In comparison, therapy is typically a longer-term commitment, focusing on long-standing thoughts, behaviours and feelings that have continued to have an impact on work, relationships and an individual’s quality of life. The two may cross over, for example focusing on a specific real-time issue within a therapy session, and to decide which is right for you it may be useful to speak to your GP or think about what it is you feel is currently holding you back in life and need support with.
Choosing The Right Type of Therapy: The 7 Styles To Have on Your Radar
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps individuals to change patterns of negative thought and is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, in addition to other mental health problems.
CBT aims to provide means of dealing with overwhelming problems in a more positive way
CBT works on the basis that the way we think about situations affects the way we feel and behave- for example if we view a situation negatively, we may experience negative emotions, which then lead us to behave in an unhelpful way. CBT aims to provide means of dealing with overwhelming problems in a more positive way, breaking them down into smaller parts and looking for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis. Sounds great, right?
CBT may be useful for those in circumstances in which medication has not successfully managed their symptoms, and can provide relief in a relatively short period of time in comparison to other styles of therapy. CBT therapists seek to understand your thoughts and feelings to break down if they are rational or unhelpful and the ways in which they are impacting your life, before interrupting the vicious cycles of negative thinking we all fall victim to at times. The Royal College of Psychiatry says: “CBT aims to get you to a point where you can ‘do it yourself’, and work out your own ways of tackling these problems.”
In addition to depression or anxiety disorders, CBT can also help people with:
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Eating disorders – such as anorexia and bulimia
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Sleep problems – such as insomnia
The structured approach CBT offers will be most beneficial to those in a place open to change and with a willingness to spend time on self-analysis and changing thought patterns. For those with any kind of resistance to therapy, it can feel difficult, but on the whole CBT is often viewed as the leading treatment course for the range of issues identified above.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a type of psychotherapy proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
Working to resolve unprocessed trauma in the brain, it allows an individual to get out of the fight or flight responce
In contrast to other talk therapies that require in-depth conversations between an individual and therapist, EMDR takes a different approach. Working to resolve unprocessed trauma in the brain, it allows an individual to get out of the fight, flight, freeze response that can occur and remain stuck ‘on’ following a traumatic event, encouraging the brain to process these memories safely so that healing can occur. The official EMDR Institute says “EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment in which eye movements are used during one part of the session.
After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.”
EMDR can be useful for a whole range of challenges and mental health problems including:
- Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
- Chronic Illness and medical issues
- Depression and bipolar disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- And more!
To learn more about EMDR, check out the book EMDR: The Breakthrough “Eye Movement” Therapy For Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, And Trauma written by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the originator and developer of the therapy!
Be it depression, anxiety, panic attacks or stress-related physical ailments, psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on the psychological roots of emotional suffering and the importance of the unconscious mind and past experience in shaping current behaviour. In simple terms: PP unpacks the ‘why’ of our feelings and experiences. Sessions of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy are based on free association (sharing thoughts, words, and anything else that comes to mind, and this spontaneity allows for true thoughts and feelings to emerge without any concern for how silly they may sound to the therapist. Spoiler: there’s no such thing anyway!
When transference occurs in a therapeutic setting, a therapist may be able to better understand an individual by gaining knowledge of the projected feelings, and as a result healing can feel more accessible
This style of therapy works by using a theory of therapeutic transference: when feelings a person may have from childhood (be it anger, distrust or rage), consciously or not, are then redirected to the therapist so that these emotions can begin to be resolved. When transference occurs in a therapeutic setting, a therapist may be able to better understand an individual by gaining knowledge of the projected feelings, and as a result healing can feel more accessible as these underlying issues are effectively exposed and addressed. The relationship between therapist and client is more important than ever here, as trust is essential in allowing those partaking to look deeply inward and recognise unproductive patterns of being.
Within these sessions a therapist may remain quiet and potentially more neutral than within other styles, however they will be highly attuned to your emotional responses and what these might say about past experiences and how these feelings are currently manifesting. A Psychodynamic therapist will support you in coming to conclusions about your past and moving forward with these issues, but will not provide tangible or practical advice, unlike CBT.
Give it a try if you struggle with:
- Eating disorders
- A loss of meaning or purpose in life
Integrative Counselling & Psychotherapy
Integrative Counselling looks at every aspect of an individual’s life, recognising their mental, physical and emotional needs and uses different therapeutic modalities to tailor an individual approach to the specific needs of the client. Integrative Counselling recognises the idea that we’re all made up of different psychological parts – some of which may be in conflict with one another– and aims to unify them using three main schools of psychotherapeutic thought:
Humanistic theory – This theory emphasises the importance of being true to yourself and your inner feelings in order to lead the best life possible.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)– As discussed above, this style of talking theory is based on the concept that our thoughts, actions, feelings are all interconnected, and that negative thoughts can easily leave you feeling trapped in a vicious cycle.
Psychoanalytic therapy – This style of therapy is based on the idea that psychological issues are rooted within the unconscious mind, and that mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can be caused by repressed trauma, or issues that occurred during childhood.
The blending of these techniques means therapists can draw from different methods in their therapeutic toolbox, making for a flexible, dynamic approach that helps clients who need a mixture of behavioural and relational approaches. The adaptability of this method means no stone will be left unturned in the name of healing!
This unique form of psychotherapy looks to explore difficulties from a more philosophical perspective, encouraging us to take responsibility for our successes and confront anxieties and negative thoughts head on. Existential Psychotherapy focuses on personal responsibility for making decisions, and rather than delve into the past, is more focused on present day choices and feelings. Existential Psychotherapy promotes the idea that you are not defined by your past, nor destined to have a certain future because of it, and this liberating belief can then form the foundation for progress and create a new lease of life!
The aims of this style of therapy include providing a sense of hope and control for an individual to view life with curiosity and hope and eradicate limiting beliefs
The process for Existential Psychotherapy is collaborative between therapist and client, with an emphasis on cultivating a caring, honest, supportive, and empathic relationship in which an individual can be challenged, and primarily comes back to raising awareness around why someone may be feeling or behaving in a certain way in the here and now. The aims of this style of therapy include providing a sense of hope and control for an individual to view life with curiosity and hope and eradicate limiting beliefs such as perfectionism and obsessing over past ‘mistakes’. GoodTherapy, a directory for finding therapists and home to lots of mental health resources says, “Through this work, people often come to feel both a sense of liberation and the ability to let go of the despair associated with insignificance and meaninglessness.”
Humanistic therapy is an approach that emphasises the importance of being your true self in order to lead the most fulfilling life, working to create a safe, supportive space where an individual can explore their potential, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is accomplished through the development of unconditional positive regard, both from others and from yourself! This approach is especially suited to anyone feeling lost, struggling with low self-esteem and can be effective for people living with specific conditions, such as anxiety, panic disorders, addiction, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
This technique provides a ‘safe emergency’ in which you can explore ‘here and now’ experiences
An example of Humanistic Therapy is Gestalt therapy, in which your personal experiences are key. This technique provides a ‘safe emergency’ in which you can explore ‘here and now’ experiences through techniques such as role-play or reenacting a scenario, and the holistic awareness and increased insight this provides can feel very liberating for patients! For those experiencing specific problems and seeking tangible help and outcomes, humanistic therapy may not be the one, but it certainly has its benefits in the treatment of depression, psychosis, relationship problems, and trauma.
Person Centred Counselling
Person Centred Counselling was created in the 1940s by American psychologist Carl Rogers who believed that “given the right conditions a person can reach their full potential and become their true self”- a theory he referred to as ‘self-actualisation’. For someone to achieve self-actualisation, a person-centred therapist will offer:
- Unconditional positive regard (UPR) – accepting and valuing an individual’s experience
- Congruence – being honest and genuine in building a trusting relationship
- Empathic understanding – seeing a situation from the viewpoint of the individual
This approach creates an environment in which the therapist and client are both equals, which empowers and motivates positive action and change. Here, the client leads the session instead of the counsellor, and as a result individuals have a better understanding of themselves and increased confidence in their healing journey.
“When I work with clients experiencing deep sadness in their struggles with depression, I like to integrate Person Centred Therapy into our work together, along with other supportive theories, because it can help clients process their feelings in a deeply healing and self-compassionate way; processing and integrating our emotions and experiences is key to moving forward towards our life’s goals,” says Talkspace therapist, Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC.
This approach can also be beneficial to individuals who are opposed to the idea of therapy as a result of their fear of judgement or criticism thanks to the atmosphere of unconditional positive regard fostered by client centred therapists.
Finding a therapist near you
If you have access to the NHS then your local GP can refer you for therapy that is free of charge. Whilst it’s not always easy to speak openly about your mental health, your GP is there to support you, and Mind has some great advice available in preparing for this conversation. Some areas within the UK also run services which you can contact directly to refer yourself for therapy- contact your local GP practice to find out more. Unfortunately there are often long waiting lists for NHS therapy, however starting this conversation can be a helpful first step in feeling you have made progress, and making your GP aware of how you’re feeling means you don’t have to face your problems alone.
Whether you’re looking to start working with a therapist or counsellor, be it online or in person, Counselling Directory is a great website to begin your journey in finding the right person for you! With over 16,000 registered professionals onsite, there’s sure to be one who can help support you, wherever you are with your journey.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website has an extensive register of therapists and counsellors with BACP membership- this means all those on the site have completed a BACP accredited course, or passed their Certificate of Proficiency and meet their standards of qualification to be best placed to help you!
Pink Therapy is the UK’s largest independent organisation for therapists with LGBTQ+ experience. They recognise “the spectrum of different gender and sexual expressions and welcome those who are engaged in consensual sexualities who are seeking a place to understand and be understood.”
Important things to consider when choosing a therapist
Choosing someone to support you with your mental health is a very personal decision, and just because a therapeutic approach or individual has helped someone close to you, doesn’t mean they will be a good fit for you. Consider factors like gender, age and experience when seeking out a therapist as feeling comfortable, supported and understood are integral for a positive and productive relationship that will help you on your journey. Lots of therapists offer intro calls or discounted first sessions so you can see if you gel with each other and decide if you want to move forward, so always be sure to ask if this is a possibility!
Know that the first person you speak to or initial sessions with a new therapist aren’t always easy, as getting to know each other and opening up to a stranger can be incredibly challenging, but with trust and perseverance, you might find strength and progress may come sooner than you think. Be gentle with yourself and patient with your healing.