8 Types of Therapy: Which Is Best for You?

Learn about the most common and effective types of therapy, what mental health conditions and situations they can help with, and where to find a provider who has the right credentials to support you.

When you’re not feeling well or you’re worried about a loved one, researching different types of therapy can quickly become overwhelming. There’s no one-size-fits-all option, but a certain method of therapy could better suit you depending on your specific needs and goals.

With these factors in mind, we researched the most common and effective types of therapy available today. We also asked experts about what these therapeutic techniques look like in a real-life therapy session, whether you want to meet in person or work with an online therapist.

Here’s your quick guide to eight research-backed forms of therapy, which mental health conditions and situations they can help with, and how to connect with a properly trained and qualified provider to support you.

1. Psychodynamic Therapy

If you like the idea of traditional talk therapy, psychodynamic therapy could be a good choice for you. During a typical session, you delve into the story of your life and explore the impact of your past on your present with a therapist who poses relevant questions to nudge you toward increased self-awareness.

The goal is to mine your personal history to bring unconscious motivations to the surface, according to the American Psychological Association. As you start to better understand the connection between deep-rooted desires and patterns of behavior, you can use this knowledge to fuel personal growth.

“For instance, if a client repeatedly experiences failed relationships, the therapist might help uncover a deep-seated fear of intimacy stemming from early life experiences,” says Carly Claney, PhD, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Seattle.

Psychodynamic therapy can help with a variety of issues, such as the following:

Psychodynamic therapy is one of the oldest therapy types, and a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has demonstrated its effectiveness.

What to expect: A potentially long-term therapeutic relationship lasting anywhere from months to years, depending on your needs.

How to get started: Search the psychologist locator from the American Psychological Association using the keyword “psychodynamic” to find a therapy provider in your area.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) offers a more structured and short-term therapeutic approach. With CBT, you discover the connections between recurring thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

“In practice, CBT can look like doing worksheets that help you look at data — your thoughts and behaviors — throughout the day,” says Jackie Darby, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant director of outreach and consultation at the American University Counseling Center in Washington, DC. “Your therapist may also take a more active stance in the session, like teaching you new ways of being or challenging you on unhelpful cognitive assumptions.”

Practicing CBT does not mean suppressing or disregarding negative thoughts or realities. Rather, CBT teaches you to understand how your thoughts and your response to them affects you and to recognize you can adopt alternative perspectives. This process empowers you to break free from unhelpful patterns.

CBT is one of the most extensively researched therapies and may lead to changes in connections in the brain related to regulating moods, although more studies are needed, according to a systematic review published in May 2022 in Frontiers in Psychology.

CBT can be an effective treatment for many health concerns such as the following:

What to expect: A dynamic, collaborative therapy with weekly sessions and homework assignments.

How to get started: Find a certified CBT therapist in your area through the Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapies directory or an online CBT platform such as Online-Therapy.com.

3. Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder. Since then, it has also proven effective for various mental health challenges, such as coping with overwhelming moods related to trauma or the urge to self-harm, according to an article published in April 2018 in the American Journal of Psychotherapy.

While CBT focuses on identifying and exploring your thoughts and feelings from the start, DBT begins with accepting them and finding coping skills to manage highly distressing situations. The term “dialectical” refers to working with opposing forces. The aim is to accept yourself as you are and, at the same time, embrace the power you have to change, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

In DBT, the relationship you build with your therapist is especially important, and they’ll expect you to attend sessions regularly and communicate with them between sessions. They provide a safe, nonjudgmental space to talk about behaviors you’d like to reduce or stop while also guiding you as you try different techniques that could help. For example, you may learn new skills to regulate your emotions and prevent angry outbursts or practice mindfulness techniques to ride out intense waves of emotion when certain events trigger you.

DBT can help with the following:

What to expect: Weekly therapy sessions and, in some cases, group classes and phone coaching with your therapist via calls or texts between sessions.

How to get started: Use the Behavioral Tech directory to find a DBT-trained licensed therapist in your area.

4. Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is an evidence-based form of CBT that is widely recognized as an effective treatment option for PTSD and related mental health conditions, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. When you’re living with PTSD, it’s common to adopt rigid beliefs about yourself, other people, and reality, like “the world is a dangerous place” based on what you’ve been through. While these beliefs may be understandable, they can contribute to habits that make you feel worse — like pulling away from loved ones and avoiding social gatherings.

CPT can help you examine trauma-based beliefs, understand how they may distort your perspective in unhelpful ways, and work toward adjusting your viewpoint for a more fulfilling life, according to the American Psychological Association.

What to expect: Weekly sessions for 12 weeks, with homework assignments between sessions.

How to get started: Use the CPT Provider Roster to find a provider licensed to practice in your area.

5. Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged exposure (PE) is another research-backed therapy for PTSD and anxiety disorders, phobias, and OCD, according to the American Psychological Association. PE involves systematically confronting and exposing yourself to things you’ve been avoiding. In time, you can recover the pieces of your life that trauma or anxiety took from you.

If you find it difficult to leave your house after witnessing a shooting or cannot bring yourself to drive again after a serious car accident, PE can help you approach your fears instead of avoiding them, contextualize them, and slowly expand your comfort zone.

Typically, the process begins with listing your fears, choosing one that’s moderately distressing, and progressively increasing your exposure to it in order to build up your tolerance. This can involve discussing the stressors and taking real-life action, such as cautiously re-entering a space you’ve been avoiding.

What to expect: Weekly sessions for 8 to 15 weeks with homework assignments between sessions.

How to get started: Use the Penn Psychiatry PE provider directory to find a licensed PE therapist in your area.

6. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is another well-researched treatment option for PTSD that’s been rising in popularity, according to the American Psychological Association. It involves a series of therapy sessions in which you identify a traumatic memory, talk about it in detail, and reprocess it with the support of your therapist.

What sets EMDR apart from other trauma-focused therapies is that, while you’re revisiting this traumatic memory, you also focus on a type of rhythmic stimulation that ping-pongs from left to right, such as a sound or an image. That’s where the “eye movement” part of the name comes into play. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some therapists may also incorporate the sense of touch by asking you to hold a device that pulses in your palms.

“After gathering your history and demonstrating readiness, you work with a therapist to focus on traumatic memories with the use of bilateral stimulation, which activates both sides of the brain, to work toward decreasing the emotional charge of the memory and changing negative beliefs about yourself,” says Janae Kim, a certified EMDR therapist in private practice in Texas and California.

Interestingly, exactly how EMDR may work has been a subject of mystery and controversy since its development in the 1980s. A study on animals suggested that side-to-side sensations may help reduce fear-related behavior, but further research is needed to fully understand the process, according to an article published in September 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

What to expect: Weekly sessions for about 6 to 12 weeks.

How to get started: Use the EMDR International Association locator to find a certified EMDR provider in your area.

7. Interpersonal Therapy

If you feel like there’s a clear connection between problems with your mood and your relationships, interpersonal therapy (IPT) offers an opportunity to address both at the same time.

Initially developed as a treatment for depression, IPT is a short-term therapy that recognizes the interplay between social issues, such as adjusting to changing roles or conflicts with loved ones, and mental health, according to the American Psychological Association.

With the guidance of your therapist, you can reflect on these challenges, learn from them, and cultivate stronger connections with others — which can help you feel better, too. As your relationships improve, your mood could lift as well.

Interpersonal therapy can help you cope with the following:

  • Depression
  • Grief and loss
  • Major life changes or role transitions like divorce or job loss
  • Relationship conflict
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • PTSD

What to expect: Weekly sessions for 12 to 16 weeks.

How to get started: Use the IPT Institute certified therapist search to find an interpersonal therapy provider.

8. Group Therapy

If the idea of focusing solely on yourself is a barrier to seeking psychological treatment or you are open to connecting with people who truly understand what you’re going through, consider group therapy.

Discovering a community of individuals facing similar challenges and sharing your stories can be a balm for loneliness, shame, and despair. While putting together any group of people can bring discomfort and conflict, engaging in open conversations, gently challenging each other, and exchanging coping strategies can help you grow and heal together, according to the American Psychological Association.

Group therapy is different from peer support groups in that a certified group therapist moderates each session. They help guide discussions, build community, and address potential issues related to group dynamics, like misunderstandings or clashing personalities.

Group therapy can help with the following:

What to expect: Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly sessions, whether a one-time meeting or regular, ongoing meetings.

How to get started: Find a group with the American Group Psychotherapy Association directory search tool or an online group therapy platform.

Types of Therapy to Avoid

It’s important to note that not all therapy types are effective or safe, and some can cause serious harm.

One practice to avoid is known as “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” which falsely claims to “treat” or “cure” LGBTQ+ individuals by attempting to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Decades of research have conclusively shown that this is impossible, and such efforts are not only ineffective but also deeply hurtful, according to the Human Rights Campaign. As a result, “conversion therapy” has been rejected and condemned by leading medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, and American Psychological Association.

If these practices have impacted you or someone you know, there are people who can help you get acceptance and a sense of community. You can find information on how to connect with an affirming therapist through our guide to LGBTQ+ online therapy or reach out to The Trevor Project for immediate, confidential support. Call 1-866-488-7386, text ‘START’ to 678-678, or start a live chat online.

The Bottom Line

There are many different kinds of therapy, and the best option for you will depend on your specific circumstances, personality, and goals. The fact that you’re doing research shows that you’re already on a positive path toward getting the support you need.

While it’s wise to look for a therapy that makes sense for the mental health condition or situation you want to address, there are a few important caveats to keep in mind. The therapeutic alliance, which refers to your ability to trust in your therapist and their ability to help you, is even more crucial for your success in therapy than the type of therapy they offer, according to the American Psychological Association. Also, many therapists don’t limit themselves to one type of therapy and instead provide a blended approach.

Regardless of the therapeutic type you ultimately decide on, be sure to thoroughly review the credentials, biography, and overall approach of potential therapists. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or schedule a brief consultation call to learn about their experience with the type of therapy you’re interested in. This will help you determine if the therapist is right for you. Be aware, too, that you can change therapists if something doesn’t feel right. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your therapist.