Introduction to Types of Treatment

What you’ll learn to do: identify and explain the basic characteristics of various types of therapy

Computer-generated image of two women. One woman has her head in her hand and looks distressed, and the other is reaching out and comforting her, like a counselor may do.

There’s no one way to treat a mental disorder, but psychotherapy or medicine, or a combination of the two are the most common treatment methods. Psychotherapy does not necessarily mean employing Freud’s psychoanalytical approach (although that is one method), but instead refers a variety of therapy methods that psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors use to help their patients.  In this section, you’ll learn about the following types of psychotherapy:

  • Psychoanalysis was developed by Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theory is that a person’s psychological problems are the result of repressed impulses or childhood trauma. The goal of the therapist is to help a person uncover buried feelings by using techniques such as free association and dream analysis.
  • Play therapy is a psychodynamic therapy technique often used with children. The idea is that children play out their hopes, fantasies, and traumas, using dolls, stuffed animals, and sandbox figurines.
  • In behavior therapy, a therapist employs principles of learning from classical and operant conditioning to help clients change undesirable behaviors. Counterconditioning is a commonly used therapeutic technique in which a client learns a new response to a stimulus that has previously elicited an undesirable behavior via classical conditioning. Principles of operant conditioning can be applied to help people deal with a wide range of psychological problems. Token economy is an example of a popular operant conditioning technique.
  • Cognitive therapy is a technique that focuses on how thoughts lead to feelings of distress. The idea behind cognitive therapy is that how you think determines how you feel and act. Cognitive therapists help clients change dysfunctional thoughts in order to relieve distress. Cognitive-behavioral therapy explores how our thoughts affect our behavior. Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to change cognitive distortions and self-defeating behaviors.
  • Humanistic therapy focuses on helping people achieve their potential. One form of humanistic therapy developed by Carl Rogers is known as client-centered or Rogerian therapy. Client-centered therapists use the techniques of active listening, unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and empathy to help clients become more accepting of themselves.

Often in combination with psychotherapy, people can be prescribed biologically based treatments such as psychotropic medications and/or other medical procedures such as electro-convulsive therapy.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe psychoanalysis as a treatment approach
  • Explain the basic process and uses of play and behavior therapy
  • Describe systematic desensitization
  • Describe how cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapy are used as treatment methods
  • Explain the basic characteristics of humanistic therapy
  • Explain the basic characteristics of mindfulness, treatment for addiction, and other emerging psychological treatments
  • Compare and evaluate various forms of psychotherapy
  • Explain and compare biomedical therapies
  • Explain how conditioning aids in therapy techniques, particularly through memory reconsolidation


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