Therapy Approaches and Methods


Behavior therapy focuses on changing undesirable behaviors. It involves identifying objectionable, maladaptive behaviors and replacing them with healthier types of behavior. Behavior therapy is the opposite of cognitive therapy.

Cognitive therapy focuses primarily on the thoughts and emotions that lead to certain behaviors, while behavioral therapy seeks to change and eliminate unwanted behaviors. The two methods are not mutually exclusive and can be combined. This type of treatment is called cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on both thoughts and behavior.

Behavior therapy can be used to treat a wide range of psychological conditions including addictions, and eating disorders. When used for eating disorders, behavior therapy starts with analyzing eating and activity patterns, as well as dieting methods and other habits. The therapist then uses information gained through such analysis to identify positive strategies for promoting weight loss, healthier eating habits, and a more positive self-image.

Cognitive therapy assumes that faulty thought patterns, belief systems, and biases influence emotions and their intensity, and can cause maladaptive behavior. The treatment focuses on changing thought patterns and reactions in order to solve psychological and personality problems.

Cognitive therapy involves replacing negative, maladaptive thoughts with positive and realistic ones. This treatment is not as simple as just thinking positive thoughts. Often, negative thought patterns are firmly entrenched in an individual's psyche. Frequently, these thoughts occur automatically, without the awareness of the individual experiencing them.

Changing negative thought patterns often requires a process of identifying the undesirable beliefs an individual has about himself and others. Once detrimental thoughts have been identified, the affected individual must learn to dispute them.

Some individuals find cognitive therapy difficult at first. Often, this is due to the fact that it doesn't immediately relieve symptoms. Learning and using skills necessary to change negative thought patterns may be challenging initially. The patient's first attempts may feel awkward. However, with time and application, the outcome of this type of therapy can be well worth the effort.

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on unconscious processes that are embodied in a person’s present behavior. The goals of therapy self-awareness and understanding of the influence of the past on present behavior. This approach enables individuals to examine unresolved conflicts and symptoms from past dysfunctional relationships and come out in a variety of ways including eating disorders and the need and desire to abuse substances.

The healing and change process can occur in both long-term and short-term therapy. This goal of long-term therapy is often to change an aspect of one’s identity or personality or to integrate key developmental learning missed while the individual was stuck at an earlier stage of emotional development.

Brief Psychodynamic therapy usually has one major focus for the therapy rather than allowing free association and discussing unconnected issues. In brief therapy, the intent is that an initial short intervention will start an ongoing process of change that does not need the constant involvement of the therapist.

The number of professionals who practice an exclusive form of psychodynamic therapy today is a small percentage of psychotherapists. However, many therapists use components of psychodynamic theories in their formulation of a client’s issues, while employing other types of techniques to affect change in the individual.

Family systems therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health and and that any family member who seeks help will aid the entire family.

What the different schools of family therapy have in common is a belief that, regardless of the origin of the problem, and regardless of whether the clients consider it an "individual" or "family" issue, involving families in solutions is often beneficial. This involvement of families is commonly accomplished by their direct participation in the therapy session. The skills of the family therapist thus include the ability to influence conversations in a way that catalyzes the strengths, wisdom, and support of the wider system.

In the field's early years, many therapists defined the family in a narrow, traditional manner usually including parents and children. As the field has evolved, the concept of the family is more commonly defined in terms of strongly supportive, long-term roles and relationships between people who may or may not be related by blood.

Family therapy has been used effectively in the full range of human dilemmas; there is no category of relationship or psychological problem that has not been addressed with this approach.

Narrative therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counseling that considers people the expert in their own lives. It views problems as something people experience rather than something they "are" and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives.

In essence, within a narrative therapy approach, the focus is not on ‘experts’ solving problems, it is on people discovering through conversations, the hopeful, preferred, and previously unrecognized and hidden possibilities  contained within themselves and unseen story-lines.  Clients are encouraged to recognize innate abilities, healthy impulses, skills, attitudes, and behaviors to empower them in  re-authoring their life stories into narratives of hope and strength.

Interactive therapy is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy as well as a direct interaction between client and therapist focusing on the positive aspects of the individual rather than the whys.