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Explanations of Therapy Styles and Theoretical Orientations




Adlerian/Individual Psychology

Based on the belief that all human behavior has a purpose and is goal-oriented, that we strive for social connectedness, and that we suffer our emotional difficulties due to feelings of inferiority and not having a sense of community. Founder: Alfred Adler (1870-1937). True change and growth results from identifying, exploring, and changing mistaken goals and beliefs. Therapy is seen as a re-education process leading to greater social participation and fewer feelings of inferiority.

Art Therapy

Use of art and creativity as a way to get at deeper feelings and greater self-knowledge. Based on the belief that accessing the more creative or right-brain part of us is helpful in identifying what is going on emotionally and can be a part of the healing process.


Founded on the belief that true change and movement towards goals is accomplished through action and that disorders are learned ways of behaving that are maladaptive. If we can learn to change our behavior, then our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes will also change. Common behavioral techniques include systematic desensitization (gradual exposure to an anxiety-provoking situation paired with relaxation), using reinforcements for desired behaviors, and aversion therapy to extinguish unwanted behaviors.


Use of electronic systems to monitor internal processes such as heart rate, brain waves, or perspiration to help an individual become aware of their physiological responses and learn to have more control over them.


Counseling is founded on what is written in the Bible. Based on the belief that Scripture is the final authority for what kinds of decisions a person should make or how they should live their life.


Clients are believed to be in the best position to resolve their issues if the therapist can establish a warm, accepting, and safe environment in which the individual feels free to talk about his/her issues and can gain insight into them. This type of therapy is non-directive because the therapist typically does not give advice or make interpretations. Founder: Carl Rogers (1902-1987) who believed that people are trustworthy and have a great potential for self-awareness and self-directed growth given a nurturing environment. The function of the therapist is to be genuine, accepting, and empathic. Techniques are seen as less important.


Therapy is based on the belief that faulty thinking patterns and belief systems cause psychological problems and that changing our thoughts improves our mental and emotional health and results in changes in behavior. See works by Aaron T. Beck.

Dream Analysis

Process of determining the meanings of dreams through symbols, myths, free association, and memories. There are a variety of philosophies and approaches for analyzing dreams including Adlerian (dreams are projections of a person's current concerns), Gestalt (every person and object in a dream represents an aspect of the dreamer), and psychoanalytic (dreams are a key to what is happening in a person's unconscious).

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)

Technique of restructuring thought patterns and associations related to traumatic events and memories and other sources of emotional distress. Method was developed by Francine Shapiro when she discovered that rapid-eye movements combined with focusing on disturbing thoughts and memories produced a calming effect.


A philosophy of life, rather than a specific therapy, which focuses on free will, responsibility for choices, and search for meaning and purpose through suffering, love, and work. People are seen as constantly changing and becoming their true selves. Searching within and finding one's own answers is encouraged. Emphasis is on the present and future, not the past. See works by Viktor Frankl (b.1905), Rollo May (b.1909), and Irvin Yalom.

Family Systems

Therapy which looks at the entire family as a complex system having its own language, roles, rules, beliefs, needs, and patterns. Each family member plays a part in the system and family systems therapy helps an individual discover how their family operated, their role in the system, and how it affects them in their current family and in relationships outside the family.

Feminist Therapy

A therapy which focuses on empowering women and helping women discover how to break free from some of the traditional molds that they may feel are blocking their growth and development. Feminist therapy tends to be more focused on strengthening women in areas such as communication, assertiveness, self-esteem, and relationships.


Experiential therapy emphasizing what is happening in the here and now to help individuals become more self-aware and learn responsibility for and integration of thoughts, feelings, and actions. A goal is to develop more internal vs. external support. Techniques include confrontation, role playing, and the empty-chair or dialogue between two parts of a personality. Founder: Frederick S. (Fritz) Perls (1893-1970) who believed that people must find their own way in life and accept responsibility for who they are to reach maturity.

Jungian (Analytical Psychology)

The focus of therapy is to help individuals access more of their inner world (unconscious) and develop greater self-realization and individuation. Carl. G. Jung's theory is psychoanalytic, but differs from traditional Freudian theory in that Jung added the concepts of individuation (human potential), which includes transcendence and spirituality. People are seen in a positive light and therapy considers the "soul" which seeks to be nurtured by something larger than the self.


Based on the belief that true change and growth comes from an individual becoming more self-aware by bringing unconscious thoughts, motivations, feelings, and experiences into the conscious so that behavior is based more on reality than instinct. Founder: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Key concepts are that behavior is determined by unconscious motivations, irrational forces, instinctual drives, and psychosexual events occurring during the first 6 years of life. Classical psychoanalysis is an intensive and long term process with a focus on transference (transferring feelings about and reactions to past significant others onto the therapist) and uncovering unconscious material.

Self Psychology

Based on the Freudian and Jungian depth psychology.  Heinz Kohut, its founder, postulated that narcissism and grandiosity in the infant is healthily managed by selfobject experiences which can be idealizing, mirroring, or twinning experiencs.  He felt that these selfobject experiences continue throughout development and life.  The essence of therapy arises from empathic understanding within the therapeutic frame and that   healing results from temporary disruptions in this empathic stance in the therapist.

RET (Rational Emotive Therapy)

Based on the belief that our emotions result from our beliefs, interpretations, and reactions to life events. A type of cognitive therapy based more on thinking and doing than with the expression of feelings. Founder: Albert Ellis (b.1913) is known as the father of RET and the grandfather of cognitive-behavioral therapy.


Solution-focused treatment begins from the observation that most psychological problems are present only intermittently. People with panic disorder obviously do not spend every minute of every day in a panic; even depression fluctuates in severity. Solution-focused therapy tries to help the patient notice when symptoms are diminished or absent and use this knowledge as a foundation for recovery. If a patient insists that the symptoms are constant and unrelieved, the therapist works with him or her to find exceptions and make the exceptions more frequent, predictable, and controllable. In other words, therapy builds on working solutions already available to the patient.

TA (Transactional Analysis)

Interactions with others and communication styles are seen as coming from three states: the parent, adult, and child and the different types of ways those three parts of our personality communicate within ourselves and with others. See works by Eric Berne.

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