When deciding on an appropriate counselor, it can be useful to understand the different therapies they may use. Although all can be effective, you may find one approach more appealing than another, or find that some approaches are better for a certain area of counseling than others.
Psychological therapies generally fall into the following categories:
Arts therapies, which use creative arts within the therapeutic process.
Behavioral therapies, which focus on cognitions and behaviors.
Couples counseling, which looks to resolve issues experienced by couples.
Humanistic therapies, which focus on self-development in the ‘here and now’.
Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies, which focus on the unconscious relationship patterns that evolved from childhood.
This is a generalization though and counseling usually overlaps some of these techniques.
Some counselors practice a form of ‘integrative‘ therapy, which means they draw on and blend specific types of techniques.
Other practitioners work in an ‘eclectic‘ way, which means they take elements of several different models and combine them when working with clients.
There are also a number of specific other therapies that can be used. Below is a breakdown of some of the different psychological therapies available. To find out more about the therapy categories or the individual therapies themselves, take your time to explore the links.
Arts therapies use creative arts within the therapeutic process. Creative expression plays an important role in our development and in many cases has been found to assist in the recovery of mental distress. Arts therapies employ creative arts in a therapeutic setting with a trained therapist, with the aim of encouraging individuals to draw on their inner creative resources and express their feelings without necessarily using words.
Art therapy or art psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art materials such as paints, clay and paper. These tools are used to communicate issues, emotions and feelings and can provide an insight into any conflicts that may be present.
Dramatherapy is a form of psychological therapy that applies acting and performance techniques within a therapeutic environment. The aim of dramatherapy is to help those taking part to express themselves while helping to address difficult emotions.
Music therapy is a type of creative therapy that harnesses the communicative power of music to foster positive change. Versatile by nature, music therapy can be used for a range of issues including autism, dementia and anxiety.
Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies
Behavioral therapies, which focus on cognitions and behaviors. Behavioral therapies are based on the way you think (cognitive) and/or the way you behave. These therapies recognize that it is possible to change, or recondition, our thoughts or behavior to overcome specific problems.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (or ACT) is a form of behavioral analysis that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to help increase psychological flexibility. While the therapy isn’t considered a long-term treatment, it is considered helpful in the treatment of depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.
Behavioral therapy focuses on an individual’s learnt, or conditioned, behavior and how this can be changed. The approach assumes that if a behavior can be learnt, then it can be unlearnt (or reconditioned) so is useful for dealing with issues such as phobias or addictions.
Cognitive analytic therapy brings together ideas from both cognitive therapy and analytic psychology into one integrative model. By looking at past experience, the therapy aims to help clients understand why they think or behave in a certain way, before looking to develop new ways of coping.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) combines cognitive and behavioral therapies. The approach focuses on thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions, and teaches clients how each one can have an effect on the other. CBT is useful for dealing with a number of issues, including depression, anxiety and phobias.
Cognitive therapy deals with thoughts and perceptions, and how these can affect feelings and behavior. By reassessing negative thoughts an individual can learn more flexible, positive ways of thinking, which can ultimately affect their feelings and behavior towards those thoughts.
Couples counseling looks to resolve issues experienced by couples. A romantic relationship is one of the closest we have as humans. Choosing a partner and staying together through life’s twists and turns is rarely simple. When we choose to get married and raise a family together, unsurprisingly this only adds to the complexity. Whether you have the odd tiff, full-blown arguments or you have simply stopped having fun – very few relationships exist conflict-free.
When this (one of our most important relationships) begins to falter, our health and happiness often suffers. While for many of us our first instinct is to try and work through problems alone, it can be incredibly useful to seek outside help. One route you may choose to go down is couples counseling – a form of talk therapy designed for those in a relationship. On this page we will look at couples counseling in more detail, including how it can help and some of the common relationship problems explored.
What is couples counseling?
Couples counseling (which can also be referred to as marriage guidance) is a form of therapy that looks to improve communication and resolve issues within an intimate relationship. In contrast to counseling for relationship issues, which can be undertaken solely through individual sessions, couples counseling is a term applied to talk therapy for two people within a relationship.
With this in mind, counselors who offer this form of therapy should have the relevant training to help them work with the dynamics of a couple. While couples counseling is ideally suited to couples attending the sessions together, if your partner is reluctant you can look to speak to a couple’s counselor on your own to begin with. You may find your partner wants to join you after you have had some initial sessions alone – or you may find it helpful to intersperse couple sessions with individual sessions.
In regards to the techniques used, some of the work you do will take place within your counseling sessions themselves – however many couples counselors will also ask you to carry out ‘homework’. Typically your counselor will ask you either to do a task or discuss something specific when you get home. During your next session you will get the chance to talk about your homework, discuss any challenges you came up against and how the experience made you both feel.
What couples counseling isn’t.
It is important to remember that when you go to couples counseling you will not simply be told what to do. Your counselor is unlikely to offer their personal opinion and you will not be told whether or not you should separate. The role of a couple’s counselor is to facilitate change and resolution by helping you both communicate more effectively and reach your own conclusions under the guidance of a professional.
If you are nervous about discussing private matters with a stranger, keep in mind that your counselor is not there to criticize you; your counseling sessions should be a space free of judgment where you can explore your actions openly.
How can counseling for couples help?
When we have been in a relationship or marriage for a long time it can be easy to fall into a trap of not listening to the other person or not communicating our needs clearly. Sometimes talking to someone with no connection to yourself or your partner is all it takes for you to gain perspective. What couples counseling offers here is the chance to speak to someone with no preconceived notions of who you are as a couple, with the added bonus of having skills and training behind them to guide you through your concerns. The overall aim of couples counseling is to help you do the following:
- Understand how external factors such as family values, religion, lifestyle and culture affect your relationship.
- Reflect on the past and how it operates in the present.
- Communicate in a more constructive way.
- Learn why arguments escalate.
- Negotiate and resolve conflicts where possible.
As your counseling sessions progress, you and your partner may find a way of overcoming your problems, or you may decide it is time to part ways. Either way, hopefully counseling will offer you the space to grow and decide what you would like the future to hold for both of you.
Common relationship problems explored
There are many different concerns that may bring you to couples counseling, ranging from a lack of communication right through to a betrayal or affair. Some common issues that can be explored through couples counseling include:
- lack of trust
- betrayal or affair
- lack of communication
- financial issues
- work-related stress
- different sexual needs or other sexual issues
- family conflicts
- different goals and values
- different parenting styles
- life changes.
This list is not exhaustive and every situation is unique. Whatever the concern is however, speaking to a professional is often an incredibly helpful step forward.
When is the right time to seek help?
Every couple is different and so when you choose to seek help will depend on the nature of the issue you are facing. If you are concerned about your relationship (for whatever reason) and feel you are unable to reach a conclusion alone, it is likely that you will benefit from couples counseling.
For some, the suggestion of couples counseling is considered a ‘last resort’ to save a relationship/marriage. While of course this is sometimes the case, you do not have to wait until things get that bad before trying couples counseling. Many couples use therapy sessions as a way to keep their relationship healthy and address any underlying concerns that may become conflicts in the future.
What training and qualifications should a couple’s counselor have?
While currently there are no legal regulations in position to stipulate what level of training a couples counselor needs, it is highly recommended that you check the therapist you seek is experienced in couples counseling.
A diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in couples counseling or related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counselor has developed the necessary skills. Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organization that represents couples counselors.
Humanistic therapies focus on self-development in the ‘here and now’. Humanistic therapies focus on self-development, growth and responsibilities. They seek to help individuals recognize their strengths, creativity and choice in the ‘here and now’.
Existential therapy focuses on exploring the meaning of certain issues through a philosophical perspective, instead of a technique-based approach.
Gestalt therapy can be roughly translated to ‘whole’ and focuses on the whole of an individual’s experience, including their thoughts, feelings and actions. Gaining self-awareness in the ‘here and now’ is a key aspect of gestalt therapy.
Human Givens psychotherapy is a relatively new approach that has been described by its founders as a ‘bio-psycho-social’ approach to psychotherapy. The therapy’s basic assumption is that humans have innate needs (called givens) that need to be met for mental well-being.
Person-centered therapy (also known as “client-centered” counseling)
Person-centered therapy focuses on an individual’s self worth and values. Being valued as a person, without being judged, can help an individual to accept who they are, and reconnect with themselves.
Psychosynthesis aims to discover a higher, spiritual level of consciousness.
Reality therapy is an approach to therapy that focuses on the here and now rather than issues from the past. Developed by William Glasser in the 1960s, the theory behind the therapy is that an individual in mental distress is not suffering from a mental illness; instead they are suffering from a socially universal human condition as they have not had their basic psychological needs met.
Also known as solution-focused therapy or brief therapy, this approach predominantly looks at what the individual wants to achieve rather than historical problems. Questions are asked by the therapist to help the individual uncover their own strengths and resources. Solution-focused therapy can be especially helpful to those who are goal-orientated and have a desire to change.
Transactional analysis is based on the theory that we each have three ego states: Parent, adult and child. By recognizing ego-states, transactional analysis attempts to identify how individuals communicate, and how this can be changed.
Transpersonal psychology means “beyond the personal” and seeks to discover the person who transcends an individual’s body, age, appearance, culture etc.
Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic Therapies
Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies focus on the unconscious relationship patterns that evolved from childhood. Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies are based on an individual’s unconscious thoughts and perceptions that have developed throughout their childhood, and how these affect their current behavior and thoughts.
Jungian psychotherapy is a specific branch of psychodynamic therapy that works from the theories of Carl Jung, considered to be one of the forefathers of psychology.
Psychoanalysis was developed by Sigmund Freud and focuses on an individual’s unconscious, deep-rooted thoughts that often stem from childhood. Through free associations, dreams or fantasies, clients can learn how to interpret deeply buried memories or experiences that may be causing them distress.
Based on psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic therapy also focuses on how an individual’s unconscious thoughts are influencing them. However, psychoanalytic therapy is usually less intensive than psychoanalysis.
Psychodynamic therapy evolved from psychoanalytic therapy and seeks to discover how unconscious thoughts affect current behavior. Psychodynamic therapy usually focuses on more immediate problems and attempts to provide a quicker solution.
There are also a number of specific other therapies that can be used. Although there are four key categories into which psychological therapies generally fall, there are also a number of other specific therapies too.
Equine therapy is a form of animal assisted therapy that uses horses to help people build confidence and develop a greater understanding of their own behavior. Challenges are set by a therapist and normally require the individual to work with the horse in a way that challenges their way of thinking.
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that was developed in the 1980s by American clinical psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro. EMDR is used to treat psychological traumas, such as war experiences, natural disasters, road accidents, rape and assault.
Family Therapy, also known as Systemic Therapy, is an approach that works with families and those in close relationships, regardless of whether they are blood related or not, to foster change. Changes are viewed in terms of the systems of interaction between each person in the family.
This type of therapy takes place with a group of people going through similar difficulties and is facilitated by one or more therapists. Group therapy can offer emotional support and help develop interpersonal skills.
Integrative counseling means drawing on and blending specific types of therapies. This approach is not linked to one particular type of therapy as those practicing integrative counseling do not believe that only one approach works for each client in all situations.
With a focus on interpersonal relationships, this therapy examines the way we relate and how this impacts our mental well-being. The core belief of interpersonal therapy is that psychological symptoms are often a response to the difficulties we have interacting with others – and when these interactions are improved, so are the psychological symptoms.
Mindfulness is a technique that originated from Buddhist meditation that helps people focus on the present to gain greater awareness of their emotions and improve general well-being. Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based therapies are becoming popular tools to help those with depression and anxiety.
While adults can express their troubling thoughts and feelings through talking therapies, children and young people may find it difficult to put their emotions into words. Play therapy is used to help children communicate their worries at their own level and their own pace, while a play therapist offers valuable support and guidance. The aim of play therapy is to increase self-esteem and confidence, and teach children new patterns of thinking and behavior that makes them more resilient in everyday life.
Psychosexual therapy, known as PST, is a treatment by a qualified practitioner which addresses a sexual dysfunction or emotional block within a relationship. PST is a behavioral program which openly explores and discusses the sexual problem and looks at emotional blocks for the couple.
Using the medium of drama combined with group dynamics and role theory, psychodrama’s aim is to help clients gain a new perspective through better understanding of their own roles in life. This approach offers a safe space for clients to explore their past, present or future. As clients gain a unique perspective, they are free to explore new solutions to challenges they’re facing.