Different types of therapy

Psychotherapy is a huge field. There are many different types of psychotherapy.  One way of trying to categorise psychotherapy is by the theory underlying each approach.

Another way of categorising psychotherapy is by the number of people treated within the therapy, for example, individual therapies, couple therapies, family therapies, and group therapies.

Individual therapy consists of one therapist talking to one client. Couple therapy consists of either one or two therapists talking to two people who are in an intimate relationship with one another, for example, who are married or in a civil partnership. Family therapy consists of one or more therapists working with a family, one or more of whom may be presenting with a problem or symptom. Group therapy consists of one or more therapists working with a group of people each of whom are presenting with their own problems; group members are usually strangers to each other before joining the group.

A third way of categorising psychotherapy is by the length of therapy. Psychotherapy can either be time limited, or open ended. In time-limited therapy, a set number of sessions (for example, 16 sessions) or time limit (for example, one year) is decided upon either at the very beginning of therapy or within the early stages of therapy. Open-ended therapy occurs when no time limit is imposed and the explicit or implicit agreement is to continue for as long as necessary.

In practice, psychotherapy also varies in terms of its intensity of meetings. Most types of psychotherapy are practised in sessions that occur once per week, but variations exist such that some types can be practised more intensely (for example, 2, 3, 4 or even 5 sessions per week), or less often (for example, at intervals of 2, 3, 4 or even more weeks between sessions).

As stated elsewhere, psychological treatments in the National Health Service sometimes have slightly different titles and different services offer different treatments. Although there are exceptions, therapies in tne NHS are usually shorter term and rarely offered more intensely. If you think psychotherapy may be helpful for you, it is worth finding out what you may be able to access.

Common types of psychotherapy are:

  • Counselling
  • Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Couples inc psychosexual
  • Psychoanalytic / psychodynamic
  • Group analytic psychotherapy
  • EMDR
  • Family therapy
  • Child therapy

Thanks to Mary Barnett and Dr Jane Blunden for their contributions to this page.