There are dozens of different types of therapy, and finding the one that suits your specific needs and preferences can vastly improve your likelihood of recovery. But how do you know which style of therapy is right for you? This article will break down the factors that can influence your choice, so you’re prepared to make an informed decision.

Factors That Influence Therapy Choices

Therapy isn’t monolithic. Different types of therapy can treat different mental health challenges, and how these therapies are delivered can influence how responsive people are to the treatment process.

For example, certain therapies are more prescriptive than others. This can complicate treatment for people who don’t like being told what to do or have specific traumas related to being told how to think or behave.

Yet other people may need this type of guidance and direction and won’t thrive in therapies that rely more on collaboration and self-guided growth.

Ultimately, there are two main factors for you to consider when choosing between different types of therapy:

1. Whether a Therapy Can Treat Your Mental Health Disorder

If you’re living with a specific mental health diagnosis, consider a style of therapy that has a significant evidence base in helping people overcome that disorder. While many therapies can benefit people with a range of disorders, some are uniquely equipped to deal with specific mental health challenges.

A person living with post-traumatic stress disorder, for instance, could find relief from both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). However, the latter is specifically designed to help people overcome the realities of trauma. For most people in this situation, EMDR would be the better choice.

And while many therapies treat several conditions, some conditions can truly only benefit from one type of therapy. The only evidence-based therapy for borderline personality disorder is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), so choosing a different style of therapy for this condition can often produce little to no results.

2. Whether You Think the Style of Therapy Fits Your Preferences

Preferences may seem like a small component of effective therapy, but choosing a therapy that appeals to you makes it more likely that you’ll get the results you hope for. Typically, people have multiple options for evidence-based treatment, but choosing a therapy that doesn’t sit well with you can create a barrier to your mental health recovery.

Not everyone has the luxury of options when it comes to treatment. But if you do, choose the therapy style that you’d be more willing to attend or more interested in. This can help to build engagement in the treatment process and have you hit the ground running.

Types of Therapy to Choose From

Finding the right therapy for you requires reading up about the options you have available. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most common and effective types of therapy as well as what they’re designed to treat.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is perhaps the most common style of talk therapy today — due in no small part to its rigorous evidence base in treating a variety of mental health conditions. CBT has decades of research supporting its effectiveness in treating:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Gambling disorders
  • Marriage and relationship challenges
  • Eating disorders

CBT is based on a simple concept: your thoughts, behaviors, and mood are all interconnected. By learning to change the way you think with specialized CBT techniques, you can improve your mood and change your behavior.

CBT is offered in both individual and group therapy formats and has an abundance of tools and resources for clients to use during treatment. It can help you identify problematic patterns of thinking, introduce you to new ways of changing your thoughts, and provide guidance and support throughout your entire recovery process.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is an innovative form of therapy that builds upon the foundation of CBT. While both therapies challenge maladaptive thought patterns, DBT recognizes that some thoughts are simply out of your control. And while you may not be able to change these thoughts, you can learn to accept them mindfully and redirect your behavior to healthy options.

DBT was first created as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, which was considered to be an untreatable condition at the time. DBT changed this, providing tangible relief to people living with this serious mental health disorder. But since its inception, DBT has proven itself to be effective for treating a wide range of mental health conditions, including:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

DBT typically follows a specific format. It includes individual sessions with a therapist, skills training groups, working with peers, and contact between a therapist and client between sessions.

Most DBT programs require a one-year agreement, which allows you to cycle through all the different skills-training modules and put the tools you’ve learned in therapy into practice.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

REBT is a style of therapy with a rich history, predating all of the other types of therapy outlined in this article. Whereas CBT focuses on changing problematic thoughts, REBT focuses on changing problematic emotions, thereby improving your overall mood and behaviors.

The core element of REBT is known as the ABCDE model, which outlines the common challenges that people living with mental illness face and how to overcome them:

  • Activating Event: The circumstance or situation that changes how you feel
  • Belief: The automatic belief about yourself, others, or the event itself that arises in response to the activating event
  • Consequence: How you react emotionally or behaviorally in response to the belief
  • Dispute: The way in which you challenge these automatic beliefs
  • Effective Behavior: When you’ve successfully challenged the belief and have changed your behavior accordingly

REBT is a focused and goal-oriented style of therapy intended to deal with specific problems rather than more holistic mental health. But this focused approach might be just what you need to overcome your mental health challenge.

Research has shown that REBT can be effective in treating mental health challenges such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Depression
  • Anger

The versatility and goal-oriented nature of REBT make it an appealing choice for overcoming a specific problem that you’re facing.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

More than any other therapy listed here, motivational interviewing — sometimes called motivational enhancement therapy — is the most collaborative form of talk therapy. Rather than telling a client what they need to do to recover, an MI therapist helps their clients create their own path to recovery and build and maintain the motivation to carry out their plan.

MI was specifically developed to help people struggling with substance use disorders. Today, it has expanded its reach to include treating challenges such as:

  • Eating disorders
  • Gambling disorders
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Managing physical health conditions

If the thought of a therapist telling you what to do sets you on edge, MI might be the right choice for you.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR was developed specifically to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other challenges associated with trauma. At its core, EMDR is an intensive individual therapy, but it adds a unique component that differentiates it from other styles of trauma therapy.

EMDR uses specialized tools to help guide a client’s perception from the right side of their body to the left. It could be a moving light, a series of tones, or even rhythmic tapping on their knees. This technique, known as bilateral stimulation, activates both hemispheres of the brain in a way that can ease the difficult nature of addressing traumatic experiences.

While the bulk of evidence for EMDR lies in treating trauma, it can also help people struggling with depression, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Parts Work

Parts work is a lens that a therapist uses to help their clients understand their particular mental health challenges. According to parts work therapy, each person has several different “parts,” such as an inner child, the persona you put on when going to work, and who you are as a friend compared to who you are as a lover.

Some of these parts become exaggerated, while others get repressed. Parts work therapy can help you bring your life back into balance by acknowledging the many parts of your whole, helping control the parts that have become inflated, and tending to the parts that have been repressed.

Parts work therapy is usually used to treat trauma-related disorders, particularly chronic trauma or complex PTSD.

Integrative Psychiatry

Integrative psychiatry brings the best of evidence-based medicine together with complementary therapies that can benefit your mental health. While conventional psychiatry is problem focused, treating specific disorders with targeted medications, integrative psychiatry is a more holistic approach to whole-body wellness and recovery.

If you’re considering taking medication for your disorder but want to explore other styles of treatment as well, integrative psychiatry may be a good fit for you.

Starting Therapy

If you’d like to learn more about the different therapy styles offered at Plus by APN, call 424.644.6486 or fill out our confidential online contact form.


  • Khan, Arif et al. “A systematic review of comparative efficacy of treatments and controls for depression.” PloS one vol. 7,7 (2012): e41778. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041778
  • “Va.Gov: Veterans Affairs.” Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD, 10 Aug. 2018,