Here Are The 7 Primary Styles Of Therapy And The Types Of People They Benefit

Why do some therapists use 'the couch'?

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Cover image used for illustration purposes only.

1. Psychoanalysis: A technique that helps you uncover repressed memories

It all began with Sigmund Freud and his iconic couch.

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Sigmund Freud was a controversial figure within psychology circles. He firmly believed that our behaviours are motivated by unconscious forces. During sessions, he encouraged his patients to talk freely without censoring thoughts and emotions. Coined "free association", this technique brings to surface certain buried or subconscious thoughts, which the counsellor will then interpret as repressed unconscious desires.

The legendary 'couch' was first used by Freud in the early 1900s to allow clients greater freedom to speak. Laying on the couch while speaking reduces eye contact and the client's need to look for positive affirmation in the counsellor's facial expressions... thus clients will feel free to express their deepest thoughts!

The couch is still used in some therapy settings today!

Image via Freepik (edited by SAYS)

Psychoanalysis is an in-depth talk therapy used to bring the unconscious to consciousness. Through free association, you may discover repressed childhood experiences (usually traumatic events) and work with your therapist to interpret them in relation to your current life. 

Who will benefit (but not limited to)
- Individuals with depression
- Individuals suffering from trauma or emotional problems
- Individuals with neurotic and self-destructive behaviour patterns
- Individuals with personality disorders

2. Adlerian therapy: Helps you deal with unresolved emotional issues by looking at your childhood experiences and birth order

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There's scientific evidence that your position within your family could influence your personality! Every individual's development is unique to their social environment, and Adler's birth order theory seeks to explore how your early childhood experiences and roles as a first-born/only child etc. affect your behaviour as adults.

During therapy, clients may realise that they have unresolved emotional issues with a significant figure from their past. To help them gain new perspectives or closure, the therapist will get them to role-play these situations.

Clients are encouraged to engage in role-playing to understand their situations.

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Adlerian therapy helps you identify obstacles (attitudes, beliefs, and choices that hinder success) and create effective strategies towards fulfilling your goals. Your therapist will analyse your roles within your social communities (family, school, etc.) and how this has affected your personality development and current relationships. 

Who benefits (but not limited to)
- Individuals with psychological disorders or mental illness
- Children, adolescents, adults, individuals, couples, families, or other groups
- Used community settings such as schools, clinics, and corporations

3. Existential therapy: Exploring deep philosophical questions to help you gain ownership over your life

Existential therapy was founded in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II, and it focuses on the anxiety that results when we are confronted with uncertainties like death. Existential therapists believe that there is no fixed meaning to life, but each of us has the power to create meaning for ourselves.

When picturing a therapy session, you might imagine the client raising these deep philosophical concerns"What's my purpose in life?", "I can't change... I have no choice." Although these topics may seem gloomy, talking about them with the intention of easing the client's anxiety can empower them to overcome these uncertainties.

Existential therapists seek to understand the unique and individual ways clients see the world, and will help them make choices based on this insight. Therapists will facilitate discussions on existential themes like death, isolation, and the search for meaning. Interventions aim to raise clients' self-awareness and acknowledge their responsibility and freedom of choice to make beneficial decisions. 

Who benefits (but not limited to)
- Individuals with psychological problems (anxiety, depression, etc.)
- Individuals with an inhibited ability to make meaningful and authentic life choices
- Individuals with addiction disorders
- Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Individuals/families/couples who are going through a difficult life transition

4. Person-centred therapy: Creates a safe and caring environment to help you work towards self-actualisation

Person-centred therapy opposes the assumption that "the counsellor knows best" by treating the client as the expert on his/her own life. Contrary to psychoanalysis, therapists who adopt a person-centred approach will not advise, diagnose, nor attempt to interpret what the client shares. This means that the therapist will not view or judge the client's problems from their own perspective and value system.

Instead, the therapist will attempt to understand the client's unique experiences by reflecting their feelings back in a genuine, empathetic, and non-judgemental way. This takes away the pressure of assessment or evaluation, and shows the client that the therapist is fully present in the moment.

This client-focused therapy provides a safe and caring environment to facilitate self-discovery, self-acceptance, healing, and positive growth. Person-centred therapy believes that all people are inherently good. Therapists will guide you towards achieving self-actualisation and reach your fullest potential.

Who benefits (but not limited to)
- Individuals who suffer from grief, depression, anxiety, stress, abuse
- Individuals with mental health conditions
- Applicable to both individual and groups settings

5. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Helps you identify and change destructive thinking and behaviour

Therapists who use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are not interested in exploring clients' past to understand current problems. Instead, they focus on developing practical step-by-step solutions to help clients better deal with their issues.

CBT believes that how we think about situations affects how we feel and behave. When a person is distressed or discouraged, his or her view of an experience may not be realistic. If we view a situation negatively, we may experience negative emotions and feelings that lead us to behave in an unhelpful way.

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The therapist will help the client identify unrealistic thoughts and behaviours about current problems, and will then suggest steps, or "homework", to modify destructive thinking patterns. Homework given by the therapist may include exercises that will help clients apply the skills and solutions suggested during therapy sessions to everyday life. If you're dealing with a specific phobia, your therapist may suggest exercises to reduce the anxiety you feel when you are facing your phobias.

Who benefits (but not limited to)
- Individuals with depression
- Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Individuals with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Individuals with anger issues
- Individuals with panic disorders
- Individuals with eating disorders
- Individuals with general or specific phobias (agoraphobia, social phobia, etc.)

6. Narrative therapy: Helps you see your problems in a different light through storytelling

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In narrative therapy, events that develop throughout our lives are called stories, and these stories influence how we see ourselves and the world. Some stories are negative and cause emotional pain, that's why some clients may come to therapy identifying themselves by their problems, such as: "I am broken."

However, narrative therapists believe their clients are not defined by their problems, and will empower them to view their situation from a new perspective. For example, those who see themselves as anxious can learn to view their problems as something they have, not a label on their identity.

Narrative therapists explore and challenge clients' problematic stories, helping them to identify alternative stories and productive ways to live. Clients learn to stop confusing themselves with their problems and are empowered to "rewrite" their stories by understanding what they are capable of.

Who benefits (but not limited to)
- Individuals
- Couples
- Families

7. Integrative therapy: Uses a combination of all the above techniques

A single, traditional approach to counselling may not always provide the same benefits to every client. Because everyone is unique, therapists will actively adapt their counselling styles and combine a variety of techniques from different approaches.

Integrative therapists consider the individual characteristics, preferences, needs, physical abilities, beliefs, and motivation level of their clients to decide the best approach for each client. This way, integrative therapy is a more flexible and inclusive approach that treats a diverse spectrum of issues.

You don't have to be suffering from severe mental health issues to seek professional help. Everyone can benefit from counselling... and it can also be a time of self-discovery!

Mental health is not to be treated lightly. If you or someone you know is in need of counselling, here's a list of counselling services in the Klang Valley.

The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care.

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