On This Page
Which Therapy Method Is Right for Me?
Short On Time?
Here's two ways to read the article.
You’re much more likely to have a good outcome in therapy if your therapist uses an approach that works for you.
That’s why it’s important to learn at least a little about the different therapy methods before you choose a therapist.
Among the hundreds of methods therapists use, a few stand out. You’ll see therapists list these on their profiles more often than others. Each of these methods represents an entire branch, or school, of therapy, and reflects a particular philosophy or approach to therapy.
A Brief Overview of the Most Popular Therapy Methods
Psychodynamic therapy: The oldest school of therapy. Psychodynamic methods focus on delving into your past to uncover the roots of your unconscious conflicts and help you resolve them. In psychodynamic therapy, your therapist will employ dream analysis or other creative methods to access parts of your psyche that normally hide themselves from your conscious awareness—such as your inner child or the true self hidden under all the layers of your social persona. Psychodynamic methods include:
- Freudian analysis,
- Jungian analysis,
- Object relations,
- Ego psychology,
- Self psychology, and
- Transactional analysis.
Cognitive behavioral therapy: The most portable school of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy uses a “Socratic method” to help you question your beliefs and identify cognitive distortions—thoughts that make you feel bad even though they’re not true. It also helps you connect to the quiet, wise part of yourself underneath your thoughts. Doing CBT teaches you ways to work with your mind that you can continue using long after you’ve stopped seeing your therapist. Sub-types of CBT include:
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT),
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT),
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT),
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT).
Humanistic or client-centered therapy: The school of therapy that centers your perspective the most. It developed as an alternative to schools of therapy that positioned the therapist as an expert. Person-centered therapists believe the answers you find for yourself are superior to theirs or anyone else’s, because you are the expert on your own life. Humanistic and client-centered methods include:
- Narrative therapy,
- Existential therapy,
- Emotion-focused therapy,
- Solution-focused therapy, and
- Motivational interviewing.
Somatic and neuroscience-based therapy: The most cutting-edge approach to therapy. Somatic methods focus on the relationship between the body and the mind. They’re based on research on how trauma and emotional pain embed themselves in the body and nervous system and on how trauma can be healed. These methods can help you get through blocks that other therapy methods haven’t been able to resolve, though they’re not the right fit for everyone. Somatic and neuroscience-based therapy methods include:
- Sensorimotor psychotherapy,
- Somatic experiencing therapy,
- Brain working recursive therapy,
- Somatic attachment-focused therapy, and
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
Eclectic, holistic, and integrative therapy: The most flexible approaches to therapy. Most therapists are eclectic in their approach, meaning they learn principles and techniques from multiple schools of therapy. Some therapists use “integrative” and “holistic” to mean the same thing as “eclectic,” though these terms can indicate the therapist draws inspiration from beyond the therapy world as well, such as from spirituality or holistic health and wellness practices.
Even knowing as much as you’ve just read can increase your chances of finding a therapist who’s the right fit. But it’s important to understand that the method a therapist uses is only one of many factors you should consider when choosing a therapist.
Research shows that the strength of the relationship you have with your therapist and their mastery of basic therapy skills matter just as much, if not more than which method they use. A good therapist needs to be a good listener, empathetic, perceptive, and able to connect with you.
So, to find the right therapist, you need to look at their personality, cultural background, and treatment philosophy as well. It’s also important to use your intuition to find a therapist who “feels” right. The easiest way to prime your intuition is to interview a few different therapists and see how you feel about them.
Many therapists also offer a free consultation over the phone. You can learn a lot about their approach by listening to what they have to say about it. So, if you’re thinking about starting your therapy journey, reach out today. The start of something incredible might be only a call or click away.
Trying to figure out which therapy method is best for you can be confusing.
There are so many, and the information you can find about them on the internet is often written more like a textbook. It’s dry and impersonal and doesn’t really tell you much about what they actually feel like—or why you’d want to pick one over the other.
It can be tempting to just shrug it off and try to choose a therapist without paying attention to which methods they use.
But getting this right can have a significant impact on your therapy experience. You're much more likely to have a good outcome if you choose the type of therapy that's right for you.
And we want you to have the best experience of therapy possible, so we’re here to help you make sense of the most popular therapy methods.
In this article, we explain what the different schools and methods of therapy are; give you an idea of what a real-world session using each method would look like; and tell you which methods might be the best match for your personality or the issues you’re coming to therapy to address. Read on to learn more.
On This Page
- An Overview of the Most Popular Therapy Methods
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- An Example of Psychodynamic Therapy
- Who Is Psychodynamic Therapy Best For?
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- An Example of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Who Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Best For?
- Person-Centered or Humanistic Therapy
- An Example of Person-Centered Therapy
- Who Is Person-Centered Therapy Best For?
- Somatic and Neuroscience-Based Therapies
- An Example of Somatic Therapy
- Who Is Somatic Therapy For?
- Eclectic Therapy
- Integrative and Holistic Therapy
- An Example of Eclectic Therapy
- Who Is Eclectic or Holistic Therapy Best For?
An Overview of the Most Popular Therapy Methods
Among the hundreds of methods therapists use, a few stand out. You’ll see therapists list these on their profiles more often than others:
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Person-centered or humanistic therapy
- Somatic or neuroscience-based therapy
- Eclectic, holistic, or integrative therapy
Each of these popular methods represent an entire branch, or school, of therapy.
What Is a "School" of Therapy?
A “school” of therapy contains multiple methods linked by a similar philosophy. You can think of them as therapy “genres” that contain many other related “sub-genres” of therapy.
Most of the popular terms you’ll hear in the therapy world—like “inner child” or “attachment style”—come from one (or more) of the above listed therapy schools.
Popular methods like dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), existential therapy, and Jungian analysis all fit somewhere in the above categories, too.
Read on to learn more about these methods and to find out what it might feel like to get each of these types of therapy.
It is the kind of therapy that puts you in touch with your “inner child” or childhood self. It looks at how your relationships with your parents (or other caregivers or important adult figures) affected your sense of self and how you relate to others.
Psychodynamic therapy is also the school of thought that introduced the concept of the “unconscious,” or the idea that there are parts of the mind we don’t control or understand. Psychodynamic therapists say we don’t know that these parts of us are there unless we look for them and bring them into the light of conscious awareness.
In Jungian analysis, these subconscious thoughts are said to be part of our “shadow.” We may get hints at what’s going on in our subconscious or shadow by the feelings, images, and scenarios that come up in our dreams. (Dream interpretation has always been an important part of psychoanalysis.)
Psychodynamic therapy is the oldest school of psychotherapy. It started with Freud’s method of psychoanalysis, in which a client lies on a couch and free associates, or speaks of whatever comes to mind, with no interruption from the analyst or therapist, who rarely speaks. Since Freud, other schools of psychoanalysis have emerged as well.
What Are the Different Types of Psychodynamic Therapy?
Some psychodynamic therapists incorporate principles and techniques from multiple schools of psychoanalysis, while others focus on just one school. Popular psychoanalytic schools include:
- Freudian analysis,
- Jungian analysis,
- Object relations,
- Ego psychology,
- Self psychology, and
- Transactional analysis.
Attachment-based therapy, which focuses on the attachment style you learned from interacting with your parents, is its own type of therapy, but it is closely related to psychodynamic therapy. The founder of attachment theory, John Bowlby, got his start as a psychoanalyst.
Modern-day psychodynamic therapy is different from traditional psychoanalysis (which some therapists still offer). Psychodynamic therapists are less interactive than many other kinds of therapists, but they are more interactive than psychoanalysts. They may use any number of creative ways to work with you and reveal the contents of your subconscious mind. They may or may not interpret dreams, but they will nearly always want to delve into your past.
Psychodynamic therapists believe healing comes from seeing, understanding, and integrating all parts of yourself. This is done by making conscious what was once unconscious. When you understand the motivations that were once hidden to you, you gain more power to choose how you want to act and who you want to be.
An Example of Psychodynamic Therapy
You walk into the therapy room. It is elegantly decorated with old Persian rugs and mid-century furniture. Intriguing sculptures stand between thick stacks of books. The light is soft and a little dim. You are welcome to lie down upon the couch, but you choose to sit in a comfortable wingback chair.
Your therapist sits behind a large wooden desk. She smiles warmly at you. She puts on her glasses and looks at her computer screen.
"Let's talk about this dream you e-mailed me," she says. She turns from her screen and meets your gaze.
“So, I’m in this big room,” you tell her. “All these chairs are set up for a special event, maybe a wedding. And I’ve made this really cool dish—a sort of savory pastry that was really complicated to make. I’m so excited to share it with everyone. But no one accepts any when I offer it to them. No one will eat any of it. No one’s interested in it at all. It just stands there, untouched, while people come and go and eat other things.”
“How do you feel in the dream?”
“Really sad. Heartbroken. I want to cry.”
“Does it remind you of anything?”
“Yes. Being a kid. I’m not sure I can remember what exactly it reminds me of from back then. But I know, even though I’m an adult in the dream, and have pulled off a very adult task, I feel like a little kid.”
“What is your interpretation of the dream?”
“I think it’s about all the things I tried to do or share with my family when I was little. I think it’s about being invisible.”
A tear comes to your eye. You and your therapist sit in gentle silence for a few moments. She maintains eye contact and you know you have her full attention. You feel cared about even though she doesn’t say anything to reassure you.
In fact, you trust your therapist all the more for holding you in that warm, wise silence instead of offering you the same kind of platitudes someone else would.
You understand you need to continue; you understand that she is helping guide you to your own insights as you make connections with that younger version of yourself from the dream.
“I want to make something that other people will actually eat. I want people to appreciate what I do. I want people to see me.”
“Yes,” she says.
Who Is Psychodynamic Therapy Best For?
Do you like finding hidden symbolism? Do you like analyzing music and movies for their secret meanings? Do you believe there’s nearly always a hidden motive behind what people say or do? Then psychodynamic therapy just might be for you.
Psychodynamic therapy is great if you love to analyze art because it lets you do that with your own mind and life. It’s a great choice if you love solving mysteries, because it lets you engage your own psyche as a puzzle or a mystery. If you like trying to figure other people out, it’s a natural fit, because it lets you figure yourself out in the same way.
It’s also great for dreamers and artists. It works with symbols and imagery as much as words. It treats dreams as a meaningful source of information.
If you have a creative block, Jungian analysis just might help you find that hidden artist Self at your core. Freudian analysis might help free your repressed creativity.
However, psychodynamic therapy isn’t the best fit for people who aren’t interested in being in therapy for a while, because it’s usually a long-term method. Some people are in analysis for years, if not the better part of their whole lives.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a portable therapy method. You can take it with you long after you’ve stopped seeing your therapist.
Signing up for CBT often means signing up for homework. The good news is that the homework is usually easy to complete. It also helps eliminate the division between what happens in the therapy hour and the rest of your life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy uses a “Socratic method” to uncover what’s true and untrue in your thinking. A big part of the work is identifying cognitive distortions—thoughts that distort the actual reality of your experience.
For example, you might think, “No one ever listens to me.” Your CBT therapist will help you analyze whether that’s actually true. You’ll probably find out that it isn’t—that while some people don’t listen, other people do.
“No one ever listens to me” is an example of overgeneralization, one of many cognitive distortions CBT might reveal.
Common Cognitive Disortions
The most common cognitive distortions include:
- Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst to happen.
- Overgeneralization: Turning a few examples into a general rule.
- Magnification or Minimization: Exaggerating the significance of single events to support a faulty one-sided narrative about your experience.
- Jumping to Conclusions: Making conclusions that aren’t supported by the actual evidence from your life.
- All-or-Nothing or Black-and-White Thinking: Removing shades of gray by concluding that you’re either wonderful or terrible or that only perfect results count.
- Emotional Thinking: Assuming that your emotions always tell you the truth about your experience.
- “Shoulding”: Thinking in “shoulds” when there is not an actual rule that you or others should follow in a particular situation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is more than just identifying cognitive distortions, though. It’s tracking your moods and identifying which behaviors and thoughts are associated with them. It’s keeping a journal where you make connections between things that happen in your daily life and what you talked about with your therapist. It’s learning different ways to communicate.
And while it is a rational approach to therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy has a spiritual dimension as well. Many modern, updated forms of CBT incorporate principles from mindfulness practice and meditation.
What Are the Different Types of CBT?
In addition to the main, traditional form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), there are many variations of it. Sub-types of CBT include:
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
Whether your therapist uses traditional CBT or one of these newer subtypes, they will work with you on strengthening the part of you that recognizes your thoughts as thoughts and that is able to question them or let them go instead of automatically believing them.
It is profound and empowering to be able to let thoughts come and go without thinking they’re the truth. It changes how you relate to others—and yourself.
When you’re done with CBT, it’s as if you’ve graduated with a degree in how your mind works. You go home knowing how to be your own therapist from now on.
An Example of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
You walk into your therapist’s office. It’s a well-lit space with white walls and minimalist décor. Ceiling-length windows present a panoramic view of the city beyond.
The only items on your therapist’s desk are a razor-thin computer monitor and a single orchid. He sits beside his desk, not behind it, in a black and chrome chair exactly like the one you’re sitting in, facing you and smiling warmly.
“Tell me about your week,” he says.
“Well, it started out fine,” you say. “But then Biff started getting on my nerves. He is always such a jerk. My mood has been messed up for the last few days. I’m not even talking to him right now.”
“What did you fight about?” your therapist asks.
“He is so disrespectful. He throws his dirty socks everywhere. He walks around playing a podcast I can’t stand, and he always forgets it’s his night to do the dishes. It’s as much work for me to go around behind him yelling at him to do it as it is to just do it myself. I know he knows it. He just thinks I’ll eventually do it if he waits long enough. He doesn’t care. He takes me for granted. And I’m sick of it.”
"Okay, let's unpack this a bit. First, do you already have an idea of what I might be about to say?"
"Biff can't read my mind and I assume too much about what he knows and thinks and what it means."
"Yes. It's fair to want Biff to behave differently, but it helps to understand that what's making you madder than anything else are the beliefs you have about what his behavior means."
“You’re right. I feel like I should have learned this by now. You point it out to me a lot.”
“That’s okay. It’s a mental habit we all have. I have to remind myself of these things on a regular basis, too. Another thing I wanted to point out is that you’re using that pesky word again—”
“Yes, that one. Are there, in fact, times that Biff remembers to do the dishes, pick up his socks, and turn off his podcast?”
“Hmm… it’s rare with the podcast, but there are days he’s actually pretty tidy.”
“What’s different on those days?”
“Hmm… Usually, he’s been off work at least one day. He’s gotten a good night’s sleep, so he’s in a good mood.”
“None of that has anything to do with you, right?”
“So, his behavior probably isn’t about you.”
“You’re right. Wow, it feels better to see it that way.”
“Good. But the behavior is still upsetting, right?”
“Yeah, just not quite as much.”
“Good. Now let’s work on finding a way for you and Biff to communicate about this that will be more productive and more likely to have the effect you want…”
Who Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Best For?
Do you not have time for bullshit? Do you not have time for a lot of things, actually? Do you like to get straight to the point and get clear, actionable answers? Then CBT may just be for you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is great for logical thinkers and problem-solvers. It’s a natural fit for meditators and people with a more stoic temperament.
If you love science and reason and don’t think anything has to be a mystery if you study it long enough, CBT will probably feel just right.
Cognitive behavioral therapy was designed to be able to solve a range of psychological problems in a relatively short period of time. It works well as both a long-term and a short-term therapy. It’s great for people who are busy and want to do focused work to solve a specific problem in their lives.
However, it isn’t the best fit if the issues you want to address can’t be addressed by working with your thoughts. Trauma often lodges in the body and some childhood issues arise to consciousness more as feelings and images than thoughts.
While CBT can completely resolve many problems or conditions, including many types of depression and anxiety, it can end up being only a surface fix for other kinds of issues.
Person-Centered or Humanistic Therapy
Client-centered therapy developed as a response to traditional psychoanalysis, which set up therapists as experts. Originally, therapists were seen as the equivalent of doctors in a medical model of mental health care. It was their job to interpret your dreams, symptoms, and preoccupations, diagnose them, and “cure” you by interpreting your symptoms correctly.
Carl Rogers, who founded client- or person-centered therapy, didn’t feel this was quite right. He didn’t think setting himself up as an expert helped his clients, and he didn’t think this was an accurate view of the therapy relationship to begin with.
Person-centered therapists see themselves as collaborators and helpers in your healing process. Their role is to help you access your own innate wisdom.
Most therapists now embrace this vision of their role to one degree or another, but a fully person-centered therapist will center you and your perspective in a way that will feel different from the way other therapists work.
Client-centered therapists won’t tell you that certain thoughts are “wrong” or emphasize their own interpretation of what you say. They will try to draw out what you think, nudging you to define for yourself whether an answer feels or seems right to you.
What Are the Different Types of Client-Centered Therapy?
In addition to traditional Rogerian person-centered therapy, client-centered therapy styles include:
- Narrative therapy
- Existential therapy
- Emotion-focused therapy
- Solution-focused therapy
- Motivational interviewing
Some of these techniques are also categorized as “postmodern therapy.” They all share in common the belief that you are the author of your own life’s meaning.
In narrative therapy, you look at the story you tell about your life and explore whether you’d rather tell another story. Your therapist can help you rewrite your story in a way that allows a fuller expression of who you are.
In existential therapy, your therapist helps you connect with your authentic self. They help you recognize the freedom and responsibility you have to choose the life you want for yourself. They nudge you toward making authentic choices.
In emotion-focused therapy, the therapist empathetically connects with you as they help you explore your feelings. They help you become more aware of your emotions, understand where they come from, and learn how to express them in a full and healthy way.
Motivational interviewing helps you explore what you want to change in your life and your actual level of motivation to change it. The therapist meets you where you are and doesn’t push you. Instead, they help you activate and strengthen your own underlying motivation to change.
In solution-focused therapy, the therapist helps you identify and define your own problems and find your own solutions. They do this in part by figuring out what is already working for you or what has worked for you in the past.
In all these therapies, you are in the driver’s seat. The therapist respects your perspective as the primary and most important perspective in the room and thinks the answers you find for yourself will always be the best ones for your situation.
An Example of Person-Centered Therapy
You walk into the therapy room. It makes you feel the same way your grandmother’s living room does. It even has the same warm color palette. There are a few cozy blankets draped over the back of the couch. The overstuffed cushions exhale as you sink into them. You feel at home here.
Your therapist sits in an overstuffed chair. He asked in your first session whether you wanted the couch or the chair. He took the chair when you said you’d like to sit on the couch.
“How are you? What would you like to talk about today?” he asks.
“I’ve been feeling stuck. I’m really mad at myself because I’m not making progress on my goals. I’m already off my diet. I was only three weeks in. I’m never going to lose weight.”
“That sounds painful. It also sounds like you’re being really hard on yourself.”
"You're right. I think about what I've learned from you about negative self-talk all the time. But it's hard not to be hard on myself when I just can't make progress."
"Can you tell me a little more about what 'progress' means for you right now?"
“Well, I want to lose weight, that’s the big one. But I also want to work on my relationship with Gary, and I want to be more assertive at work. I’m trying to go out for more girls’ nights, and go to the gym more, and start going back to my art class.”
“That sounds like a lot.”
“Yeah, I guess. I guess it is. Do you think I shouldn’t be trying to do so much?”
“What do you think?”
“Ugh, you always ask me. I want to know what you think!”
“I think it all sounds fine. These are all healthy things. But I wonder what ‘progress’ means to you? It sounds to me like you’re making progress.”
“I’m doing a little bit of a lot of things, but not really getting anywhere with any of them. Especially not my weight.”
“I thought you told me you had lost weight?”
“Three pounds, yeah. But that’s nothing.”
“How much would it have to be for you to consider it to be ‘something’—for it to be ‘progress’?”
“I don’t know, maybe five? Ten? What do you think?”
“I think ‘progress’ means forward motion, so one pound would be ‘progress’ to me, but that may not be what it means to you.”
“I guess when you put it that way, it is.”
“What way would you put it?”
"I don't know. You've got me thinking. I guess I've got to start somewhere. Anyone does. But I never give myself credit for starting. That's probably why I quit working on things even when I'm making progress or getting some forward motion."
"I think that is a wise statement. I wonder—how would you feel if, everything else being the same, you told yourself a different story about what 'progress' means?"
"A lot better. So maybe I'll start there."
Who Is Person-Centered Therapy Best For?
Are you tired of trying to solve everyone else’s problems and wish you could just talk to someone who listens to you? Are you hungry for a time and space where you don’t feel judged or pressured to perform? Do you want to figure out what you actually want in life? Person-centered therapy may just be for you.
Person-centered therapy is great if you feel overwhelmed with negativity—your own or others’. It’s great if you have a stressful job or a difficult home life and need a release valve to vent stress.
Client-centered therapy is one of the most versatile therapy methods. It’s designed to meet everyone where they are. So, it’s a good choice if you’re not sure what to choose or can’t decide what therapy method would be best for you.
However, the person-centered approach is gentle, and it may not be the best choice if you have a specific problem or issue you want to fix in a hurry. It is likely to frustrate you if you want a therapist who’s more directive.
Person-centered therapists define themselves by their refusal to assert their own views of right and wrong over clients’ views, and they don’t believe it’s right to tell you what to do.
Somatic and Neuroscience-Based Therapies
Many of the most popular and cutting-edge methods therapists are using right now don’t really fit into any of the old therapy boxes. Two things that many of these of-the-moment therapy methods have in common are that:
- They are influenced by neuroscience and
- They focus on the link between the body and the mind.
Many of these methods emerged from the trauma-informed therapy movement and research into trauma. Research has revealed how traumatic experiences get embedded in our bodies, our nervous systems, and the deepest, most non-verbal parts of our minds—even our DNA.
Trauma can manifest as muscle tension or digestive dysfunction. It can change deeply unconscious, automatic processes like breathing and heart rate. It can affect your posture, how you breathe, and your most basic, underlying feelings of safety.
When trauma roots this deeply in the body and the nervous system, therapies that focus on the thinking part of the mind—even psychodynamic therapy, which works with the unconscious, but uses mental imagery and concepts to do so—can't always get deep enough to heal it.
Many trauma-informed therapists have been inspired by research on neuroplasticity, which shows that the brain can change as we age. We not only can change our minds; we can change our brains. We can grow new gray matter.
Therapists have used these insights to develop new therapy methods that seek to change the brain and heal the nervous system. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the most popular brain-based somatic approaches. By using eye movement or other bilateral stimulation, EMDR can help you process and release trauma you haven’t been able to release any other way.
However, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions aren’t the only things EMDR and other somatic methods can address. These therapies can treat anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder (now better understood as a trauma-related condition in many, if not most cases), chronic stress, childhood emotional wounds, and other issues.
What Are the Different Types of Somatic or Neuroscience-Based Therapy?
Examples of somatic and neuroscience-based therapy methods include:
- Sensorimotor psychotherapy
- Somatic experiencing therapy
- Brain working recursive therapy
- Somatic attachment-focused therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
Psychotherapy developed out of the understanding that the mind can heal the body and heal itself. Now, therapists are seeing that the body can help heal the mind. Different somatic therapies apply this principle in different ways, but they all embrace the idea that trauma and other mental health conditions aren’t “all in our heads”—they’re in our bodies, too.
An Example of Somatic Therapy
You walk into the therapy room. Soft light slants through the window. You get into a white pleather chair in front of a tripod with a light bar. You lean back until your head is pressing against the headrest, the light bar now directly in your line of sight.
Your therapist smiles at you from the other side of the light bar. “How are you doing today?” she asks.
“Okay,” you say. “Honestly—not really okay. I’ve been a nervous wreck all day.”
“Would you like to start by doing that breathing exercise that helps you regulate your nervous system?”
“I’d love to,” you reply.
She leads you through a now-familiar exercise. As your breathing slows, your anxiety eases. Next, she helps you connect to your safe place. You close your eyes and visualize the place she helped you find in your first session with her—a place where you remember feeling calm, safe, and empowered. You've learned how to recreate that feeling by reconnecting to that memory.
“Do you feel up to starting with the memory we talked about last session?” she asks.
“I do,” you say. “Honestly, I think it’s part of why I’ve been nervous. But I know I’m ready, even if it’s hard.”
“Good. I’m proud of you,” she says. “You’ve been making such amazing progress.”
She starts the light bar. You know what to do. Your eyes follow the green dot as it tracks from one side of the bar to the other.
“Alright,” she says. “You’re in the apartment with your ex-fiancée. She’s just thrown a glass of wine in your face and told you that you’re a piece of trash, that the wedding is off, and that she’s been seeing someone else. On a scale of one to ten, how true is the statement, ‘I am unlovable’?”
“Okay, nine. What are you feeling? And where do you feel it in your body?”
“I am feeling small. Ashamed. I feel it in my guts.”
“And what would you rather believe in this moment?”
“I am lovable. This isn’t my fault. I don’t deserve this.”
“Which of those do you want to focus on?”
“I am lovable.”
“Okay. ‘I am lovable.’ How true is that in this moment on a scale of one to ten?”
“Alright. Let’s focus on that moment, how you feel, where you feel it, and the negative belief, ‘I am unlovable.'”
You keep all of that in mind while following the cursor on the light bar for about 30 seconds.
“Alright, what do you notice?”
“I feel a hot sensation in my spine. I want to crawl into the wall and disappear.”
“Okay, go with that.”
You follow the light bar for another 30 seconds, then tell your therapist what you noticed that time.
You repeat this process several times. The things you notice help you make new connections.
Sometimes, mental images come up. Sometimes it's thoughts or beliefs. Sometimes it's physical sensations or emotions.
Somewhere in the course of the session, the images and feelings start to feel a little lighter, a little less painful.
“Okay, it’s about time to wrap up. Let’s revisit ‘I am unlovable.’ How true does that feel right now?”
“Hmm, I can’t believe it, but only a 3 or 4. It’s still there but not at all like it was.”
“And what about, ‘I am lovable’?”
“I’d say that’s a six now. Maybe a seven?”
“Good. We’ll need to revisit this, but we’ve made a lot of progress today.”
She closes the session by guiding you through some slower eye movements and back to a visualization of your safe place.
Who Is Somatic Therapy For?
Are you tired of therapy that only scratches the surface? Do you want to try something powerful enough to blast through emotional blocks you’ve been talking circles around for years? Then EMDR or other somatic therapies might be for you.
Somatic methods are good if you’re experiencing psychological and physical health problems that are related to one another, like chronic pain and anxiety that seem to make each other worse.
Somatic methods can be a good option if you’ve been in therapy for a while and feel stuck. You might not think you have a trauma history or that these therapies are for you, but you might be surprised. They can be as effective in treating “little-t traumas” like childhood emotional invalidation as they can be in treating “big-T Traumas” like being a victim of violence.
However, while somatic therapies can heal issues other therapy methods can’t, the reverse is also true. Somatic therapies work best if you have a specific target issue or trauma to address. And other methods are probably better if you’re not sure what you need to heal in the first place or why. (Traditional talk therapy can help you clarify things first, and it may be all you need.)
Somatic therapies that bring up past trauma and pain so you can “reprocess” it, like EMDR, can also be intense. They may be too overwhelming in early phases of your healing journey or at times in your life when your daily stress level is high.
Modern therapists tend not to be as devoted to one particular school of therapy as they were in the past.
Most therapists now consider themselves to be eclectic in their approach. They seek to develop a diverse skillset and learn multiple methods so they can adapt their approach to suit your needs.
It’s easier to avoid getting pigeonholed into a type of therapy that doesn’t work for you when you choose an eclectic therapist. However, this doesn’t mean that method doesn’t matter with an eclectic therapist or that you can assume all eclectic therapists have a similar approach or skillset.
Many therapists favor a specific approach or “flavor” of therapy and sprinkle in a few additional “ingredients” to enhance that approach. For example, a therapist might primarily use a psychodynamic approach but learn EMDR to help clients with trauma.
It’s hard to anticipate what a session with an eclectic therapist will be like. So, it’s important to understand the therapist’s general approach or philosophy to know if they’re a good fit for you. You may be able to learn this by reading their profile, or you may need to schedule a free phone consultation to find out.
Integrative and Holistic Therapy
For many therapists, “holistic” and “integrative” mean the same thing as “eclectic.” But they can also refer to therapy approaches that incorporate spiritual elements, alternative healing methods, or holistic wellness practices.
Holistic therapists may also incorporate spiritual approaches like mindfulness into your sessions. Some may focus on ideas or practices from a single, specific religion or spiritual practice. Others may use an interfaith or non-religious spiritual approach.
Of course, whether you’re comfortable with a holistic therapist’s approach depends on how closely your spiritual beliefs (and your general approach to life) line up with theirs. Some people can do deeper work in spiritually-oriented therapy, while others are completely turned off by a spiritual approach.
This is why it’s important to do research into your therapist’s cultural and spiritual background (and to indicate your preferences regarding your therapist’s spirituality when signing up with our sponsor BetterHelp or on another online platform).
Ultimately, while many therapists call themselves eclectic, holistic, or integrative, and not all of them define those terms in the same way, you can usually tell whether a therapist’s specific combination of approaches is right for you by reading their full profile or bio.
An Example of Eclectic Therapy
You walk into the therapy office. You love the view through the big picture window: a stream winds through the backyard and disappears into the woods beyond. Birds chitter and chirp as they swoop in to grab some seeds from the bird feeders. Wind chimes tinkle in the wind.
The blades of a ceiling fan flip lazily around. You settle into a funky, but comfortable green couch. You pull your sock feet up under you.
“How are you doing today?” your therapist asks. She sips from a cup of tea. You pick up and sip yours. The sound of a fountain adds to the calming atmosphere.
“I’m kind of a mess,” you tell her. “I’ve been stuck in negative thoughts all week. Low-key obsessed. I’m still so pissed about what happened. I’m having a hard time calming down or focusing on anything.”
“I can tell you’re tense. Would you like to start with a progressive relaxation exercise?”
“Sure,” you say.
You do the same exercise at home, or at least you try to, but it seems so much better when you do it here. You can focus so much more easily, let go of your day so much more fully when you're in your therapist's office.
"Alright," your therapist says after closing the exercise, "I think it might be good to do some cognitive behavioral therapy today. What do you think?"
You've done some EMDR sessions with her before, and you know today isn't a good day for that. Some days you just talk and explore. You've done some inner child work together, too, and some guided visualizations.
But you know she's right. The negative thinking has just been so dominant lately, and you need to deal with it before you'll be able to focus on anything else.
“I think that’s a great idea. I’ve been trying to apply some of the CBT stuff we’ve done before, but I feel rusty, and these particular thoughts are just so intense.”
“Okay, great. What would you say your worst thought has been this week? Which one is making you the most upset?”
“That this is how it always goes for me. No matter how hard I work or how good of a person I try to be, it doesn’t matter. The harder I work, the more I help, the less anybody seems to care. It’s like it gives them a reason to not care anymore. It’s like they lose respect for me. I dunno, I guess that’s a lot of thoughts.”
“No, that’s fine. That’s good. Let’s start with this idea that people don’t respect you or stop caring about you. What evidence do you have that this is true?”
“Well, there’s this guy Dan, who I was assigned to work with on this project that has been such a disaster. He checked in with me a lot and was doing a lot in the beginning, but now he doesn’t do anything and hardly says anything to me. I’m basically having to do it all myself.”
The session continues, and you unpack the thoughts that have been bothering you. By the end of the session, you feel like you understand the situation better and see that it's not an intentional personal attack. You leave the session with a renewed determination to communicate more openly about your needs and to set better boundaries with Dan and with other people at work.
Who Is Eclectic or Holistic Therapy Best For?
Do you feel like none of the therapy methods you’ve read about are quite right for you?
Would you prefer a therapist who thinks outside the box? Or someone who puts more emphasis on other elements of therapy besides the method they use?
Then an eclectic, holistic, or integrative therapist might be right for you.
So, if you’re not sure which approach is right for you, an eclectic therapist can be a great choice. You’re less likely to feel like you’re stuck at a dead end with a therapist whose approach just isn’t working for you if you’re with someone who can swap methods as needed.
Holistic therapy is a great choice if you’re a spiritual person and spirituality is an important part of your healing. Finding a therapist with similar spiritual views can add another dimension to therapy as you incorporate spiritual practices and principles into your work together.
Each eclectic therapist chooses the methods that make sense to them. Each still tends to favor a certain theory or point of view. To have a sense of how therapy with a particular therapist will feel or work, you need to learn which methods they use and learn at least a little bit about them.
So, we recommend that you read the sections in this article about other therapy methods as well as this article on how to choose a therapist. These tips can help you find a therapist who’s the right match for you.
There isn’t a single therapy method that is best for all people and all situations. Each method has strengths and weaknesses. Some methods work well for some things but not so well for others.
That’s why it’s important to learn at least a little bit about different therapy methods before you choose a therapist. The method or methods they use will have a huge influence on how your therapy works—and how it feels.
Method Matters, But It's Not What Matters Most
That said, research shows that the method a therapist uses is only one piece of the puzzle. The strength of the relationship you have with your therapist and their mastery of the basic skills of therapy matter just as much, if not more than which method they use.
A good therapist needs to be a good listener, empathetic, perceptive, and able to connect with you. So, to find the right therapist, you need to look at other things besides the method they use—like their cultural background, treatment philosophy, and personality.
You need to use your intuition, too, to help you find a therapist who “feels” right.
Many therapists also offer a free consultation over the phone. You can learn a lot about their approach by listening to what they have to say about it. So, if you’re considering starting your therapy journey, reach out today. The help you need might be only a call or click away.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.