When searching for a therapist for the first time, you might have an idea about how you want a therapist to approach working with you, but aren’t sure if that lines up with the techniques listed on a therapist’s profile.
Here are a few common therapeutic modalities explained in layperson’s terms – I hope this knowledge can help you choose a therapist that’s right for you.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on two key actions:
- Identifying automatic thoughts you experience when encountering difficult situations
- Reshaping the automatic thoughts or reactions that are inaccurate or unhelpful
Take this example: when leaving home in the morning, your partner mentions in passing that they want to make time to talk to you in the evening.
You start fixating on the worst-case scenario, worrying that this is a breakup talk, and you go out for a drink (or three) with your coworkers after work to avoid facing your partner at home.
When you finally get home, your partner is bewildered by your behavior – they had just intended to start discussing planning a vacation together, relationship problems were never on their mind.
In this example, Cognitive Behavior Therapy would help you realize you may have a tendency to jump to conclusions about what people mean, and then act impulsively to distract yourself from your anxieties.
Your therapist would work with you to practice recognizing inaccurate automatic thoughts in the moment and letting them go, and choosing to react to those thoughts with intention instead of habit.
Psychodynamic therapy is the exploration and interpretation of your emotional reactions and ways of thinking. Therapists taking a psychodynamic approach help you with three main tasks:
- Seeing patterns in your feelings and thoughts
- Reflecting on how these patterns formed over time
- Understanding how your feelings and thought patterns are influenced by your innermost beliefs about yourself and the world
Let’s say for example you’re seeking therapy because you seem to always feel lonely despite having a lot of people around you.
With a psychodynamic approach, your therapist might help you discover that even when loved ones encourage you to open up to them, you keep them at a distance, which leaves you feeling isolated.
You may also explore reasons you might be used to interacting with people like this – perhaps you felt ignored at home growing up and got the message that people don’t want to hear what you think, or maybe after losing a close friend suddenly, you’re afraid to let someone in again only to lose them later on.
Knowing why you think, feel, and act certain ways can help you consider new ideas and change the way you approach your life.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) teaches certain skills and techniques to help people keep strong emotional reactions balanced in the moment and to handle challenging interactions with other people without acting impulsively.
DBT is often taught in structured group settings (sort of like a class), but some therapists adapt it for use in individual therapy.
Imagine this scenario: after being unemployed for six months, you have no choice but to move back in with your parents, who were never supportive of your career.
Feeling worn out and defeated, you can’t seem to motivate yourself to do much.
The more your parents urge you to look for work, the more you just want to stay in bed all day and text your toxic ex as a distraction – but this just makes you feel worse about yourself.
A therapist influenced by DBT in their style will help you practice being mindful at those times when you have those feelings of worthlessness, and be aware that, although it makes sense that the situation you are in has brought you to feel that way, it is not a reflection of who you are.
Your therapist would also help you find healthier ways to cope with challenging feelings and how to interact with your parents in a way that might be more productive.
Looking at your most difficult emotions from a non-judgmental place can show you that you can take control of your actions and interactions in relationships, instead of having those relationships and feelings control you.
Motivational Interviewing is a style of therapy that helps empower you to:
- Choose what changes to make in your life
- Keep focused on your goals and priorities throughout the change process
- Understand your inner strength and what skills you have to help you succeed
Motivational Interviewing is a great approach for supporting you through any kind of change, big or small. It can be particularly good to consider if you are navigating a situation that is socially stigmatized, like reducing your drug use or thinking about how to handle your relationship with a partner who sometimes harms you.
A frequent goal I often hear from clients that is perfect for the motivational interviewing approach is starting an exercise routine.
Using motivational interviewing, your therapist would guide you to stay in touch with:
- Why this goal is important to you
- What steps you need to take to work exercise into your life
- How you will holistically define success
- What inner qualities will help you persevere
Your therapist would also help you roll with second thoughts or other roadblocks and adjust accordingly, instead of getting discouraged and giving up on your goal too soon.
Often, everything we need in order to make a change is already inside us – with motivational interviewing, your therapist will help draw that out of you, so you can make best use of it.
If you’re thinking about starting therapy, I’d love to tell you about how I incorporate therapeutic techniques in my approach. Click the button below to book a free phone consultation, and we can talk about what might work best for you.