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What Are the Different Types of Individual Therapy?

By Amanda Barnhart
Updated May 17, 2024
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Individual therapy sessions help many patients deal with mental disorders and improve their overall levels of mental health. Working with a therapist or psychiatrist one-on-one allows the mental health practitioner to develop a treatment plan specific to the individual patient, which can be altered or deviated from as necessary. Some mental health professionals work with patients using several different types of individual therapy, while others specialize in a certain type. The most common types of individual therapy are psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, and humanistic.

Psychoanalytic therapy is one of the most common types of individual therapy. This type of therapy encourages the patient to talk about past experiences and feelings so the therapist can identify patterns and analyze what is going on in the person's unconscious mind. It can be difficult to develop a treatment plan through psychoanalytic therapy because most patients have many possible situations they could talk about, but sometimes simply providing a safe environment for the patient to talk about his feelings is helpful. Therapists who take a psychoanalytic approach to treatment often focus heavily on a patient's childhood and may look for underlying meanings in events that seem simple on the surface.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on specific situations or problems as opposed to an individual's overall state of mental health. This type of individual therapy is often particularly helpful for patients who do not have an ongoing mental illness but instead deal with a specific problem or set of problems. During cognitive-behavioral sessions, therapists encourage their patients to challenge negative thoughts or feelings and teach them new coping strategies for specific situations. This helps them change their thought patterns and respond in ways that promote good feelings and positive mental health.

Humanistic therapy is used less than the other two types because it takes more of a philosophical approach to treatment and leaves many questions open for the patient. This type of individual therapy focuses on helping the patient understand that he is responsible for the choices he makes and takes the standpoint that all humans are basically good, but that they make choices that can affect their lives in negative or positive ways. Humanistic therapists strive to help patients work within their individual personalities, strengths, and weaknesses to help them cope with feelings and make positive choices in specific situations.

Some therapists use a combination of techniques from different types of individual therapy in order to best help the patient. The specific type of therapy received is not as important as the outcome. Patients seeking therapy to deal with mental illnesses or issues should find a therapist they trust and feel comfortable with so they will feel open to discussing the different types of techniques used in their treatments.

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