Different Therapeutic Approaches for Mental Health Issues

There are many different therapeutic approaches, or modalities, to help you manage your mental health issues. Often, therapists will combine techniques from several of these approaches to tailor treatment for each patient.

Psychoanalysis, made famous by Sigmund Freud, is an intensive therapy that explores unconscious struggles and desires. Alternatively, dialectical behavioral therapy can teach you skills like emotional regulation and acceptance to balance your emotions.


Psychoanalytic therapy is based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, who believed that the unconscious was a reservoir of thoughts, feelings and desires. These hidden influences are thought to contribute to mental illness and maladaptive behavior. Psychoanalytic therapists spend a lot of time with patients talking about their lives and relationships, which is why this type of treatment is sometimes known as the “talking cure.” They look for trends or significant life events that might be contributing to the patient’s current challenges.

Psychoanalysis can help a person gain control over their negative influences by tracing them back to their origins. This allows the patient to address them in ways that are more constructive than simple problem-solving techniques like seeking advice from friends or reading self-help books.

Unlike other talk therapies, psychoanalysis usually involves several sessions per week and can last for several weeks to years. While some people find this intense and personal approach uncomfortable, it can be an effective way to resolve long-standing psychological issues. It’s important to note that while this is a highly respected method of recovery, there are also many who view it with skepticism.

Existential Therapy

Existential therapy is based on the belief that a person must forge their own meaning and make choices to live a full life. Therapists use creativity, love and authenticity to foster growth and change. This approach can be used with a variety of issues and conditions, including anxiety, depression and addiction.

In addiction recovery, the therapist acts as a coach to help clients face their anxiety without resorting to drugs or alcohol. Existential therapists often use the concept of freedom to encourage a client to take responsibility for his behavior and thoughts. They also urge a client to make more willful decisions by drawing on creativity and love rather than allowing outside events to dictate his actions.

During sessions, an existential therapist will avoid judgement and provide a safe environment for an exploration of values, assumptions and ideals. This therapy was pioneered by psychoanalyst Rollo May, who adapted phenomenological and existential views. It can be a useful tool for establishing therapeutic rapport, especially in short-term substance abuse treatment, which must focus on creating a solid foundation of respect and trust.

Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion focused therapy recognizes that emotions are essential to a person’s identity. It also assumes that avoiding emotional experiences is not just counterproductive, but that suppressing emotions can cause physical and psychological harm.

Therapists who practice this method help people develop a greater understanding of their emotions and how they relate to them. They also teach clients to articulate their feelings, which can help them replace unhealthy patterns with healthier ones. For example, if a client was raised to believe that expressing anger is wrong, they may learn to push it down. Over time, this can lead to health issues such as chronic stress, says Lively.

Therapists who practice emotion-focused therapy use a variety of techniques, including “chair work,” where clients imagine an empty chair in front of them and talk to it as if someone from their past had been sitting in it. This can be particularly helpful for people with unresolved conflicts or hurt feelings.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy uses mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, to help you focus your attention on the present moment and become more aware of your body and emotions. This type of therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and stress.

Studies have found that mindfulness-based therapies can be effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. They are also a good choice for people who want to avoid taking medications or have experienced side effects from antidepressants.

Some mindfulness-based therapies combine cognitive therapy with mindfulness techniques. For example, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps you identify and change destructive thinking patterns by teaching you to be more mindful of your thoughts, feelings and sensations. DBT also teaches you to be more accepting of your negative emotions.

Other mindfulness-based therapies include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). MBRP combines mindfulness meditation with relapse prevention strategies to help you learn how to be more aware of your addiction and develop healthy coping skills. ACT focuses on developing psychological flexibility by learning to accept your unpleasant thoughts and emotions and commit to behaviors that are in line with your values.


Systematic desensitization is a behavioral therapy that is effective for treating anxiety disorders such as phobias or OCD. It uses classical conditioning and associative learning principles to break the connection between a trigger and a response. Your therapist will work with you to develop a hierarchy of your fear and then use relaxation techniques while going through each level, until the trigger no longer causes discomfort.

For example, let’s say that you have social anxiety and are afraid of talking to strangers. Your therapist will determine that talking to people you don’t know is your lowest-level fear, and they will ask you to imagine greeting strangers in your mind. They will also teach you different relaxation exercises, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing. You will practice this daily until it becomes a natural part of your day.

Joseph Wolpe developed this treatment technique in 1958 based on reciprocal inhibition. It posits that a person cannot be relaxed and anxious at the same time, which is why this form of exposure therapy is paired with relaxation training.

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