for better mental health

Talking therapy and counselling

Explains what talking therapies are, what happens during therapy, how to get the most from therapy and how to find a therapist.

What different therapies are there?

Talking therapies can differ in:

  • their focus (for example, learning about more yourself by talking about your past, or working on overcoming a specific problem you have now)
  • the techniques the therapist might use during sessions
  • the academic theory behind them.

Common types of therapy

Therapists use all sorts of complicated words to describe their particular style of therapy, which can be really confusing. Also, many therapists are trained in several different styles and will tailor their approach for you. In this case they might also use words like 'eclectic', 'blended' or 'integrative' when they describe how they work.

Here are some common terms you might come across when describing different types of therapy, and what they mean:

Arts or creative

Uses creative processes such as painting, drawing, drama and music as a way to help explore and communicate difficult or confusing feelings – such as in arts and creative therapies.

Behavioural

Explores the way you act.

Cognitive

Explores your thoughts and the way you think – such as in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Dialectical

Explores opposite positions and looks at how they might exist together – such as in dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT).

Humanistic

Focuses on the individual as a whole, including mind, body, spirit and soul.

Mindfulness-based

Involves becoming aware of all your current thoughts and feelings and accepting them. Often involves mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises.

Person-centred

Focuses on using your own strengths and insight about yourself to encourage personal growth and improve relationships.

Psychoanalytic (or analytic)

Focuses on unconscious, deep-rooted thoughts that often stem from childhood.

Psychodynamic (or dynamic)

Explores how your unconscious thoughts might affect the way you act.

Solution-focused

Focuses on what you want to achieve in the future rather than exploring past experiences.

What types of therapy are available near me?

It's important to be aware that not all therapies are available everywhere. Sometimes it can feel like you don't have much choice, as it may largely depend on what's available locally. It might help most to learn what's available to you personally, and think about how to get the most from therapy in any situation.

Find out more

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website has an extensive A–Z of therapeutic approaches. This list covers many types of therapy by name, and explains the different beliefs and approaches behind each one.

"Don't be disheartened if the first talking treatment you try doesn't help. It took me three attempts to find the right therapy for my anxiety and six to find the right one for my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – the right treatment is out there."

This information was published in June 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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