Choosing the right therapy for mental health and wellness is kind of like choosing the right doctor for your physical needs. Mental health involves everything you say, do, and feel, but there are so many kinds of help for brain and emotional needs. One size doesn’t fit all. 

Think of choosing your psychotherapy like this. You wouldn’t go to a brain surgeon for a sprained ankle, would you? By the same token, you wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist if your problem is how to escape from a narcissist or a toxic relationship. Psychiatrists are medical doctors with a speciality in addiction and disorders of the brain. Psychiatrists can diagnose and treat mental illnesses but are not going to be your go-to for relationship or work problems. And you won’t spend hours in a psychiatrist’s office getting psychotherapy.

Choosing the right therapy: Know the terms

While there are many types of psychotherapy, most of them fall into one of these four types. These are the therapies that will help you on your healing process. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

Looking for a quick fix? Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a commonly used, short-term therapy which is usually about 10 – 15 sessions. The therapy focuses on changing cognitions (thoughts) and behaviors (actions). Here, one works on problems that can be changed such as irrational thinking, and unhealthy behaviors like drinking and drugging. The goal is to reduce or extinguish the symptoms of unhealthy behaviors. CBT does not focus on insight into deep-seated core issues. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a related therapy that combines CBT with humanistic and trans-personal therapies. CBT is useful for a specific problem that you need help changing.

Psychiatry focuses on brain health

Often the first thing to do when faced with a mental illness is to get an evaluation of what’s wrong. You could have emotional problems or relationship problems, trauma or abuse. These issues can be treated by clinicians who are not medical doctors. Mental illness, however, requires a psychiatrist for diagnosis before you decide on the treatment you need. If you have a mental illness, like a deep depression, anxiety, addiction, brain disorder, or other co-occurring disorders, you need a physician with focus on mental health. Get a diagnosis from a psychiatrist before you start other treatments. You may need medication, along with the other therapies for behavioral changes.

Choosing the right therapy: Psychoanalysis is a therapy conducted by a specially trained psychiatrist or lay analyst

Do you want to lie on a couch and explore your unconscious?Psychoanalysis conducted by a specially trained psychiatrist or lay analyst. The theory behind it is to explore your unconscious processes and core issues in order to heal. The focus is on gaining insight and coping with deep-seated psychological issues. Psychoanalysis is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, who is touted as the “father of psychotherapy.” Modern psychology has revamped this work to make it more user-friendly. This is a longer term therapy, which  spans several years. It’s expensive and no longer a favorite form of therapy as it was some twenty years ago. 

Choosing a psychotherapy based on humanistic Or existential theory

Yikes, these are big words. But it’s really pretty simple, really. This therapy focuses on healing through the mind, body, and spiritual connection. Acceptance of self, healing techniques, and a positive, warm, accepting relationship with the counselor are the hallmarks of this type of therapy. The counselor and client are more equal in the process. The goals include discovering and utilizing the self-healing abilities of the client.

Existential therapy is a branch of  humanistic theory which focuses on the existential questions of today such as: “Why am I here and what is my purpose in life?” and “What is the meaning of life?” With this work, you are tasked with coping with suffering, despair, loneliness and the responsibility for yourself in dealing with these deep life struggles throughout your life span.

Trans-personal Or integrative therapy 

Developed by Ken Wilber, trans-personal therapy is an eclectic practice which embraces all of the three previous therapies. The focus of trans-personal therapy is to “transcend and include.” The patient learns how to integrate all the stages from the human pre-ego (baby), to ego, to beyond the ego. The result is a development of the higher self, a transcendent self. This type of addresses every aspect of being human: the mind, body, spirit, and soul.

In this work, the patient focuses on spiritual, transformative beliefs and practices. Because trans-personal literally means “beyond the personal (ego),”  this practice encompasses explores many dimensions including:

  • Science
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Social work
  • Psychology
  • Group therapy

Trans-personal therapy employs the following tools, including:

  • Meditation
  • Art and music
  • Dream interpretation
  • Religion,
  • Journaling
  • Tai chi
  • Body work
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Spirituality

Intensive Out Patient and Online Therapy

Telehealth has been growing in popularity exponentially because of the Covid 19 pandemic. Online therapy gives you the opportunity to get help wherever you are. With online therapy, you can experiment with different therapists until you find the perfect person for you. Intensive Out Patient, IOP is the right choice for people recovering from substance addiction. Since people have different emotional and psychological needs during their lifetime, you may well try more than one kind of therapy.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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