Therapy is for everyone. Let me say that again…therapy is for everyone, yes, even you! Whether you have been experiencing mood swings or sadness and hopelessness, or fighting with your family or partner, or want some help navigating a move or a new job, therapy is for you. Therapy is for people navigating mental illness, as well as those looking to maintain or improve mental wellbeing. While friends may be a helpful sounding board at times, their opinions and advice are often driven by their feelings about you, those around you, and the environment you are in. A therapist, on the other hand, is a completely neutral third party individual who can help you navigate your own feelings without trying to influence you or tell you what to do.
Despite the many benefits to therapy, it can be an overwhelming and scary step to take. There are so many different types of therapists and different styles of therapy. From cognitive behavioral to psychodynamic therapy and from social workers to psychologists and psychiatrists, it can be hard to know where to start! I have provided a brief breakdown below:
- Types of therapy: There are many different styles of therapy, some of which I will review here. Some of the big ones you will see while searching for a therapist are psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Psychodynamic Therapy: When you first picture therapy, you may think of what you’ve seen in tv and movies, where an individual sits or lays on a couch and talks while their therapist scribbles down notes. These shows and movies are often depicting psychodynamic therapy. This is classic talk therapy where you will be encouraged to speak freely about any thoughts that come to your mind. Therapists who use a psychodynamic therapy approach may help you make connections between your current thoughts and feelings of distress with your childhood experiences. Psychodynamic might be a better option for people who are looking to gain deeper insights into how they experience the world and why. This is typically longer term therapy that can help people understand their relationship patterns or how their past experiences influence their thoughts and decisions going forward. It typically addresses current issues by looking to the past.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT has been gaining popularity in recent years. Therapists who use this approach help people see how their feelings and negative thought patterns can impact their behaviors. Instead of focusing on past events, therapists who use CBT provide people with the tools to help shift negative thought patterns. If you are looking for more action oriented therapy that will provide you with specific tools and “homework assignments” for you to implement outside of your therapy session, I would recommend looking for a therapist who uses CBT. CBT has also been shown to be effective in as few as five 60-minute sessions once a week. This may also be most beneficial for people going through short term stressors such as a job transition or a move.
- Types of therapists: While it may be helpful to have some understanding of the different types of therapeutic approaches, your individual and unique relationship with your therapist will have a huge impact on your comfortability and success in therapy. When looking for a therapist you may come across various different licenses and degrees from social workers to professional counselors to psychologists and psychiatrists. Let’s talk about these differences.
- Psychiatrists: First, psychiatrists are medical doctors who have gone to medical school and specialized in mental illnesses and medication. Typically, psychiatrists won’t provide therapy, they are mostly there to provide you with a diagnosis and prescribe medication. While this can be incredibly helpful and necessary for some people, I wouldn’t recommend seeing only a psychiatrist without also seeing a talk therapist.
- Psychologists: Psychologists, on the other hand, have gone to school for their PhD, but like many types of therapists, they typically cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists specialize in assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental illnesses with therapy. If you believe you may have a mental illness, you may want to seek out a psychologist for an assessment and therapeutic treatment plan.
- Social Workers & Professional Counselors: For those who are seeking out assistance navigating life’s challenges or maintaining wellness, you can’t go wrong with a professional counselor (PC) or social worker (SW). If you see these initials with an L (licensed) or a C (clinical) in front of them, this just means they have taken an exam to become licensed and are approved to clinically treat patients.
While it may be helpful to keep these different styles and types of therapy and therapists in mind, the only way you’ll truly be able to tell what works for you is to make an appointment and meet with someone. Just like how you may need to try different doctors before finding someone who meets your needs, you may have to speak with a few different therapists before finding the right fit. Many therapists offer free 15 minute consultations where you can ask them questions and get to know them. This is something you can take advantage of while you are searching. Ultimately, no matter what type of therapist you have and what therapeutic approach they use, therapy should be a safe space for you to share your thoughts with someone who won’t judge you and who will provide you with the tools to navigate life’s challenges. Psychology Today is a great place to start!