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Common types of psychotherapy

The term ‘psychotherapy’ covers a range of approaches and methods. These range from one-to-one talking sessions to therapies that use techniques such as role-play or dance to help explore people’s emotions. Some therapists work with couples, families or groups whose members share similar problems. Psychotherapy can also be provided for adolescents and children as well as adults.

Below is a list of the different types of psychotherapy available and their benefits. It describes the main features of psychological therapies which are usually available in the UK.

The information is intended as a general guide and to clarify some commonly used professional terms. If you would like a type of therapy added to this list, please email website@ukcp.org.uk.

How do I find out which type of therapy is best for me?

You can use our Find a Therapist directory to search for therapists in your area. You can specify whether you’re looking for help as an individual, a couple, or a family, as well as by a particular issue you would like help with. For more information, please see our page on choosing a psychotherapist.

Art therapy
Attachment-based psychotherapy
Behavioural therapy
Body psychotherapy
Brief therapy
Cognitive analytical therapy
Dance movement therapy
Drama therapy
Existential psychotherapy
Family therapy
Gestalt therapy
Group analysis
Group psychotherapy

Humanistic integrative psychotherapy
Hypno-psychotherapy
Jungian analysis
Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy and Counselling
Object relations therapy
Person-centred counselling
Psychoanalysis
Psychodynamic psychotherapy
Psychosynthesis
Relational psychotherapy and psychoanalysis
Relationship counselling
Solution-focused brief therapy
Systemic therapies
Transactional analysis (TA)
Transpersonal psychotherapy

Art therapy

Art therapy combines talking therapy with creative exploration through paint, chalk, crayons and sometimes sculpture. Techniques might also include drama and puppetry or movement. In sand-play, for example, clients choose toys to represent people, animals and buildings and arrange them in the controlled space of the ‘theatre of the sandbox’. The art therapist is trained to have a comprehensive psychological understanding of the creative process and the emotional attributes of different art materials. In this instance, art is seen as an outer expression of our inner emotions. For example, in a painting, the inter-relationship of size, shape, line, space, texture, shade, tone, colour and distance all reveal elements of the client’s perceived reality.

Who would benefit from this type of therapy?

Art therapy can be particularly effective for clients who have difficulties verbally expressing themselves. In non-clinical settings, such as art studios and workshops, the focus on creative development can be useful particularly when working with children and adolescents, as well as adults, couples, families, groups, and communities.

Art therapy can also be useful for people who have experienced trauma, such as refugees, and for people with learning difficulties.

Attachment-based psychotherapy

Attachment-based psychotherapy is a branch of relational psychoanalysis exploring interrelated emotional forms of attachment from birth onwards.

The theory behind it looks at early child development and the forming of early attachments – secure, anxious, avoidant, ambivalent or disorganised to understand how problematic attachment experiences early on in life are subsequently re-enacted later in adult life.

Who would benefit from this type of therapy?

Developing an attachment-based relationship with a psychotherapist will allow a client opportunities to mourn past losses, and explore the impact of important relationships on their life in the present and the past.

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy is based on the theory that learnt behaviour in response to past experiences can be unlearnt or reformulated, without focusing on the reasoning for the original behaviour.

Who would benefit from this type of therapy?

Individuals with compulsive and obsessive disorders, fears, phobias and addictions may benefit from this type of therapy. The focus is on helping the client to achieve goals and modify extreme behavioural responses to problems such as stress or anxiety.

Body psychotherapy

Body psychotherapy encompasses a number of integrative approaches. It is concerned with how an individual’s body, and the emotional, mental, spiritual, and social/relational aspects of their life affect each other. It takes into account the complexity of interactions between mind and body.

Who would benefit from this type of therapy?

Types of body psychotherapy, such as integrative body psychotherapy, bioenergetic analysis, or biodynamic psychotherapy and biodynamic massage, will address an issue on a number of levels including body, emotion, mind and spirit. They acknowledge that many psychological problems (such as depression, eating disorders, panic attacks and addictions) will have an impact on the body.

Brief therapy

Brief therapy uses a variety of approaches to psychotherapy. It differs from other therapeutic approaches in that it focuses on a specific problem, and involves a direct intervention by the therapist who works more pro-actively with the client. It emphasises precise observation, uses a client’s natural resources, and encourages the temporary suspension of disbelief, to enable the consideration of new perspectives and multiple viewpoints.

The primary objective is to aid the client to view their present circumstances in a wider context. Brief therapy is seen as solution based, and therapists are more concerned with current factors preventing change rather than how the issues arose. There is not one specific mode of approach but many paths which, singly or combined, might ultimately be beneficial. Brief therapy is short term, usually in a prearranged number of sessions.

Cognitive analytical therapy (CAT)

CAT combines theories to explore links between language and thinking, and historical, cultural and social influences on how we function. It encourages clients to use their own resources and develop the skills to change destructive patterns of behaviour, and negative ways of thinking and acting.

The therapy is short-term (16 weeks), structured and directive, for example the client may be asked to keep a diary or use progress charts. The therapist works in collaboration with the client, focusing on changing patterns of behaviour and teaching alternative strategies for coping. Attention is given to understanding the connections between patterns of behaviour developed in childhood, social input and their impact on the client as an adult.

Dance movement therapy (DMT)

DMT is an expressive form of psychotherapy, founded on the belief that the body and mind are intertwined. Through the vehicle of movement and dance, a client can creatively explore emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration.

Dance therapists operate from the principle that movement reflects an individual’s process of thinking and feeling. By acknowledging and supporting the client’s movements, the therapist encourages the development of new emotional experiences through adaptive movement patterns, supporting the solution of psychological issues.

DMT can be practised individually with the therapist, or within groups. The client does not have to be a trained dancer to benefit from DMT, as movement is an essential part of who we are.

Drama therapy

Drama therapy is the intentional use of theatrical techniques, such as role-play, theatre games, mime, puppetry, voice work, myth, ritual, storytelling and other improvisational techniques to facilitate creativity, imagination, learning, insight and personal growth. Its extremely varied approach provides an expressive type of therapy that can be used in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, mental health centres, prisons and businesses.

Drama therapy supports opportunities for individuals or groups to explore personal and/or social problems in a creative environment, and to safely reflect upon existing beliefs, attitudes, and feelings, exploring alternative ways of acting in the world. The drama therapist encourages self-awareness, reflection upon, and expression of, feelings in relationship to the self and to others.

Existential psychotherapy

Existential psychotherapy supports the client to make sense of life through the willingness to face it and its problems. The existentialist belief is that life has no essential or predetermined meaning, the individual is entirely free and ultimately responsible, so meaning has to be found or created. This can trigger feelings of meaninglessness in life, thus the therapy explores the client’s experience of the human condition and aims to clarify the individual’s understanding of values and beliefs, explicitly naming what has previously been left unspoken. The client is supported in living more authentically and purposefully, whilst accepting the limitations and contradictions of what it is to be human.

As a therapy it is regarded as a serious enquiry into what it means to be human, often involving the painful process of squarely facing up to aspects of humanity that are ordinarily avoided and evaded. Existentialist therapists believe that such in depth explorations can ultimately bring great strength and joy.

Family therapy

Family therapy is a branch of psychotherapy focusing specifically on family relationships. It works from the premise that a problem lies within the family as a whole, rather than with a single person within the family unit. It is also referred to as couples therapy and family systems therapy.

Family therapy encourages change and development, and the combined resolution of family conflicts and problems. The focus is on how families interact together, emphasising the importance of a functioning family unit for psychological health and wellbeing. Regardless of the origin of an issue, or whom the problem lies with, the therapist’s aim is to engage the family in beneficial solutions, seeking constructive ways for family members to support each other through direct participation. A skilled family therapist will have the ability to influence conversations in such a way as to harness the strength and the wisdom of the family unit as a whole, taking into consideration the wider economic, social, cultural, political and religious context in which the family lives, and respecting each individual’s different perspectives, beliefs, views and stories.

(Family in this instance is defined as long-term relationships that are active within the family, or strongly support the familial unit, irrelevant as to whether related by blood or not.)

Gestalt therapy

Gestalt is a German word meaning the whole and the sum of all the parts, and the symbolic configuration or pattern of elements, that make up the whole.

Gestalt therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach, which draws on the belief that people have a natural tendency towards health, but old patterns of behaviour and fixed ideas can create blocks interrupting the natural cycle of wellness, therefore effecting communication with others.

Gestalt therapy addresses what is happening in the moment, bringing into awareness an individual’s representation of the self, his/her responses and interactions with others. The belief is that to be fully present in the here and now creates within the client the potential for more excitement, energy, and the courage to live life directly. A Gestalt therapist looks at how the individual resists contact in the here and now, how they resist change, and certain behaviours or symptoms that the client regards as undesirable or unsatisfactory. The skilled Gestalt therapist makes effective and efficient interventions to bring the client into awareness of not only what is happening and what is being said but also body language and repressed feelings. Gestalt techniques often include acting out scenarios and dream recall.

Group analysis

Group analysis combines psychoanalytic insights with the exploration of interpersonal functioning in a social context. The intention is to achieve a healthier integration of the individual in his or her network of relationships, i.e. within the family, the community and socially. Group analysis focuses on the relationship between the individual and the rest of the group, emphasising the social nature of human experience through an interactive approach. Group analysis can be applied in many fields of human relations such as teaching, training and organisational consultancy.

The theory is based on the belief that deep lasting change can occur within a carefully selected group, whose combined membership reflects the norms of society. Group analysis views the group as an organic entity, within which the role of the therapist is to hold the group rather than take an active participatory role. The group becomes a dynamic entity of its own, and functions within a socio-cultural context that in turn influences the process.

Group psychotherapy

Group psychotherapy is a branch of psychotherapy intended to help people who would like to improve their ability to cope with life’s difficulties and problems but in a group situation.

In group therapy, one or more therapists work with a small group of clients together. Although initially created to decrease costs and increase efficiency, practitioners soon recognised positive therapeutic benefits that could not be gained from one-on-one therapies. For example – interpersonal problems are addressed well within groups. Group therapy is not based on one single psychotherapeutic theory, but many and often revolves around talking, and may also include other approaches such as psychodrama, movement work, body psychotherapy or constellations work.

The aim of group psychotherapy is to support the solving of emotional difficulties and encourage the personal development of the participants in the group. The combination of past experiences and experiences outside the therapeutic group, with the interactions between group members and the therapist’s, becomes the material through which the therapy is conducted. These interactions might not be perceived as entirely positive, as the issues that the client has in daily life, will inevitably be reflected in his or her interactions within the group setting. However, this allows for valuable opportunities for such problems to be worked through in a therapeutic setting, generating experiences, which may then be translated into “real life.” The skilled therapist will be selective in choosing members of the group to support the group process.

Humanistic integrative psychotherapy

Humanistic integrative psychotherapy aims to work with a full range of influences to encourage the development of the individual, their relationship to others and society.

In humanistic integrative both the client and the psychotherapist are actively engaged in shaping the processes of assessment, intervention and evaluation of outcomes. This approach stresses the importance of the individual’s capacities for self-regulation, self-actualisation, responsibility and choice, which underpin the process of change; the psychotherapist works with the client to realise these potentials. Psychotherapists also take into consideration the impact of the external world upon the internal world of the client to explore the significance of social, cultural and political realms of experience.

Humanistic integrative psychotherapy is available in a range of settings in the public, private and voluntary sectors and benefits individuals, couples, children, families, groups and organisations.

Hypno-psychotherapy

Hypno-psychotherapy uses hypnosis to induce a deep state of heightened relaxation and altered awareness, during which the unconscious mind is highly receptive to new or alternative perspectives and ideas.

In the field of hypno-psychotherapy the unconscious mind is looked upon as a resource for wellness and creativity. Accessing this part of the mind through hypnosis opens up possibilities for the maintenance of the body towards health.

Hypno-psychotherapy can be applied to modify a client’s behaviour, attitudes and emotions, as well as manage pain, anxiety, stress-related illnesses and dysfunctional habits, promoting personal development.

UKCP considers hypnotherapy to be a subset of hypno-psychotherapy. That is, anyone registered with UKCP is qualified to deal with the issues addressed by hypnotherapists, but have extra training to work at a deeper level with more complex emotional and psychological issues.

Jungian analysis

Jungian analysis is a specialised form of psychotherapy that works with the unconscious. The Jungian analyst and the client work together to expand the client’s consciousness in order to move toward psychological balance, harmony and wholeness. Jungian analysis examines deep motivations within the client’s psyche, thoughts and actions that lie beneath conscious awareness. The Jungian analyst aims to achieve deeper and more long lasting changes in the personality. They do this through focusing on what happens within sessions, as well as the client’s internal and external experience of their life. Jungian psychotherapy aims to align conscious and unconscious thoughts to create new values and purpose to address psychological pain and suffering.

Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy and Counselling

Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy (NLPt) is developed from Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLPt is broad based and draws on many areas of psychology and psychotherapy. At its foundation, it is the premise that we construct our own model of reality (a personalised map of the world) based on our experiences and how we represent them internally. Each person uses their own map to navigate themselves through life. The models that are used can promote changes that enhance fulfilment and success, or at times can be limiting and restrictive.

NLPt explores the thinking patterns, beliefs, values and experiences behind problems or goals. This enables people to make relevant adjustments to reorganise their world accordingly, which reduces limiting beliefs and decisions, overcomes stuck emotional and behavioural states and generates resources, by extending a person’s existing skill base. This gives a person a sense of having more control and, therefore, a greater ability to create the life they desire.

NLPt psychotherapists work with a wide range of presenting psychological issues and it is these that determine how the unique therapeutic package is designed, a tailor-made system of therapy, which often integrates various therapeutic approaches where necessary, to increase therapeutic results.

Object relations therapy

Object relations therapy works on the theory that the ego-self exists only in relation to other objects, whether internal or external. Object relations sees the self as a personal self-developing and existing within the context of relationship, primarily the parents but also taking into consideration home, art, politics, culture, etc. It rests on the beliefs that human beings are social beings. Therefore, contact with others is a basic need and our inner world is a changing dynamic process, made up of fixed and fluid patterns, conscious and unconscious. These dynamics effect how we perceive and experience reality.

The object relations therapist actively interacts with the client, supporting him or her in the resolution of irrational ideas through the active experience of the real relationship between the therapist and the client. It offers the opportunity to re-experience necessary relational issues such as loss, intimacy, control, dependency, autonomy and trust. Though interpretation and confrontation may be involved, the main aim is to work through original irrational components of the client’s emotional world.

Person-centred counselling

Person-centred counselling is based on the assumption that an individual seeking support in the resolution of a problem can engage in an accepting non-judgmental relationship with the counsellor, allowing the client to freely express emotions and feelings. It is also called client-centred or Rogerian counselling.

Who would benefit from this type of psychotherapy?

Person-centred counselling is for clients who would like to address specific psychological habits or patterns of thinking. The client is perceived by the counsellor as being the best authority of their own experience and therefore capable of achieving their own potential for growth and problem resolution. The person-centred counsellor provides favourable conditions to allow the emergence of such potential through unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding, enabling the client to come to terms with negative feelings and develop inner resources with the power and freedom to bring about change.

Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis deals with the investigation of the mind, a systematised body of knowledge about human behaviour, and a method of treatment of psychological or emotional illness.

Regular sessions of psychoanalysis provide a setting where unconscious patterns can be brought into awareness with a view to changing them. The client’s relationship with the analyst is an important influence upon the client’s unconscious ways of behaving and, in itself, becomes a central area of focus, highlighting the client’s patterns within the relationship in the immediacy of the sessions.

Freudian psychoanalysis is a specific type of psychoanalysis in which the person undergoing psychoanalysis verbalises thoughts through methods such as free association, fantasy, and dreams. The analyst interprets them for the client to create insight for the resolution of issues and problems in the client’s life.

Who would benefit from this type of psychotherapy?

Freud believed that unacceptable thoughts from early childhood are repressed in the unconscious mind but continue to influence our feelings, thoughts, emotions and behaviour. These repressed feelings often surface in adulthood as conflicts, depression, etc or in dreams and/or creative activities. These unconscious aspects are explored in the therapy through the intervention of the analyst, confronting the client’s pathological defenses, wishes and guilt.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a term that encompasses therapy of an analytical nature; essentially it is a form of depth psychology that focuses on the unconscious and past experiences, to determine current behaviour.

The client is encouraged to talk about childhood relationships with parents and other significant people, the primary focus being to reveal the unconscious content of a client’s psyche in an effort to alleviate psychic tension. The therapist endeavours to keep his own personality out of the picture, in essence becoming a blank canvas onto which the client can transfer and project deep feelings about themselves, parents and other significant players in their life. The therapist remains focused on the dynamics between the client and the therapist.

Psychodynamic therapy tends to be less intensive and briefer than psychoanalysis, and also relies more on the interpersonal relationship between client and therapist than do other forms of depth psychology. It is a focus that has been used in individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, family therapy, and to understand and work with institutional and organisational contexts.

Psychosynthesis

Psychosynthesis is based on the inclusion of the past within the context of the awakening of the self. Psychosynthesis is considered an existential psychology with spiritual goals and concepts, and is sometimes described as “psychology of the soul”.

Psychosynthesis aims to integrate or “synthesise” a higher, spiritual level of consciousness with the level at which thoughts and emotions are experienced. Through painting, movement and other techniques, different aspects of the personality are recognised and valued. Assagioli used the term superconsciousness to describe the realm of the psyche that contains our highest potential, the source of our unique path of development. He believed that repression of this potential can lead to psychological disturbances as debilitating as repression of past childhood traumas. Assagioli insisted that psychosynthesis be included in the empirical understanding of psychology, and was careful to maintain a balance with rational and conscious therapeutic work, alongside the integration of the spiritual.

Relational psychotherapy and psychoanalysis

Relational psychotherapy is a broad way of understanding human motivation and the process of therapy. Therapists who take a relational approach understand that person-to-person relating is one of the most central motivations that people have, hence it can also be what brings many individuals to therapy.

Therapists from all different modalities can be described to have a relational approach if they prioritise their clients’ ways of relating to others as central to understanding themselves. While understanding the way previous relationships inform current relationships is important, relational therapists also maintain that the therapeutic relationship creates a space where such relational dynamics are provoked and can be worked through, understood and improved. Relational therapists may draw on dynamics that are occurring in the here and now within the therapeutic relationship in order to shed greater light on understanding the client’s relational dynamics and hence enable them to understand themselves more. The way a therapist behaves in therapy with regard to their relational position will largely depend on their own personality and training, privileging the client’s way in which they relate, however, is likely to be common among most individuals working relationally.

Relationship counselling

Relationship counselling aims to enable people to recognise and better manage or reconcile troublesome differences and repetitious patterns of distress within their relationship(s). The therapist will most likely explore the clients’ feelings, values and expectations, encouraging communication and problem solving and looking at options and new possibilities.

Who would benefit from this type of psychotherapy?

Relationship counselling is for family members, couples, employees or employers in a workplace, and professionals and their clients.

Solution-focused brief therapy

Solution-focused brief therapy focuses on a particular issue and promotes positive change, rather than dwelling on the issue or past problems. Clients are encouraged to focus positively on what they do well, their strengths and resources and to set goals to achieve them. It is solution-based rather than problem-solving. This therapy is a short-term therapy and as few as three or four sessions may be beneficial.

Systemic therapies

Systemic therapies is a generic term for therapy dealing with people in relationship to one another, the interactions of groups, and their patterns and dynamics.

Systemic therapy has its roots in family therapy, and family systems therapy, and approaches problems practically rather than analytically. It does not seek to determine cause, nor assign diagnosis, but rather identify the stagnant patterns of behaviour within the group or family and address the patterns directly. The role of the therapist in systemic therapies is to introduce creative nudges to support the changing of the system, and address current relationship patterns, rather than analyse causes such as subconscious impulses or childhood trauma.

Who would benefit from this type of psychotherapy?

Systemic therapy can also be used in businesses, and is increasingly being implemented in the fields of education, politics, psychiatry, social work and family medicine.

Transactional analysis (TA)

Transactional analysis is an integrative approach to psychology and psychotherapy based on two notions: first that we have three parts or ‘ego-states’ to our personality: the child, adult and parent self. Secondly that these parts converse with one another in ‘transactions’ and, within each social interaction, one self predominates. Therefore by recognising these roles, the client can choose which part to adopt and so adjust behaviour. This form of therapy works with the term inner child to describe unfulfilled needs from their childhood.

Transpersonal psychotherapy

Transpersonal psychotherapy describes any form of counselling or psychotherapy which places emphasis on the transpersonal, the transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human experience. Transpersonal psychotherapy is often viewed as a companion to other schools of psychology that include psychoanalysis, behaviourism and humanistic psychology.

The transpersonal psychotherapist’s focus would include spiritual self-development, mystical experiences, systemic trance and other metaphysical experiences of living. As in psychosynthesis, the ultimate goal of transpersonal psychotherapy is not merely the alleviation of suffering, but the integration of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of the client’s wellbeing. It includes the exploration and focus of the client’s potential, and the development of inner resources and creativity.