Types of therapy

If you're having problems with any kind of emotional or mental health issue, a talking treatment could help. Here's our at-a-glance guide to what types of therapy are available.

self help group

Just talking through your problems can be treatment for them.

What is therapy?

‘Therapy’ or talking treatments are a psychological method of relieving emotional distress and can help people to change their attitudes or behaviour patterns. They work by providing you with an opportunity to explore issues with a trained professional, gain a better understanding of yourself, and develop coping strategies in order that you can lead a more positive lifestyle.

Always remember that therapy and counselling is not the only form of treatment for mental health problems. Medical treatments such as antidepressants are also widely used, either alone or together with talking treatments.

What are the different types of therapy?


Counselling can help you make sense of your life and resolve specific problems. It can also help you to make decisions, deal with mental health problems and many other issues affecting your mental wellbeing. Counselling is provided in a safe environment and what you speak about should be kept confidential. The aim of the counsellor is to help you, and they can do this in many different ways. Counselling is generally face-to-face, but can also take place over the telephone or via the internet. Counselling may be offered as a one-off session, for a limited period of weeks, or on an ongoing basis.

We answer all your common questions about counselling in our FAQ article.

Cognitive behaviour therapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) combines two very effective kinds of psychotherapy – cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy. Behaviour therapy helps you weaken the connections between troublesome situations and your habitual reactions to them, such as fear, depression or rage, and self-defeating or self-damaging behaviour. Cognitive therapy teaches you how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms – often giving you a distorted picture of what’s going on in your life, and making you feel anxious, depressed or angry for no good reason, or provoking you into ill-chosen actions.

For more info on CBT, read our article here..

Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis

These therapies are processes of discovery that aim to eliminate or control mental or emotional distress. They also can be used to help a person overcome a specific problem or to stimulate overall emotional growth and healing. In regularly scheduled sessions – usually 45-50 minutes in length – a person works with a therapist to identify, learn to manage and, ultimately, overcome emotional and mental problems. Therapy is an active process requiring concentration, energy, and commitment by both parties.

Group therapy

In group therapy approximately six to 10 individuals meet face-to-face with a trained group therapist. It is a safe environment in which members work to establish a level of trust that allows them to talk personally and honestly. During therapy, people may begin to see that they are not alone and that there is hope and help. It can be comforting to hear that other people have a similar difficulty, or have already worked through a problem that still troubles another group member.

Relationship counselling and family therapy

Relationship counselling can enable couples to examine and decide how best to cope with difficulties in a private and safe environment with the help of a professional counsellor. Particular emphasis is placed on helping parents achieve stable and workable arrangements for their children. Family therapy works in the same way, only with the entire family attending.

Support groups

Support groups are a way of empowering people to help themselves, and others, on the path to recovery. An effective group will help members achieve recovery through mutual support as well as provide them with updated information about causes and treatment, eliminating some of the myths about mental illness.

Self-help groups

Many people find it helpful to meet other people in a similar position. It can be very useful to share experiences with other people who may be going through the same thing as you. There are opportunities for mutual support, and you may get ideas of what things other people have found helpful to them.

How can I get therapy?

A referral for talking treatments can often be arranged by your doctor (GP). However, frequently there are long waiting lists for these types of treatment on the NHS. Free or low-cost counselling is also provided by a number of charities and voluntary organisations. Search our Local Advice Finder for local organisations in your area. Your local health centre and notice boards in hospitals and community centres may also have information about local counselling services. If you are looking for a private practitioner you could contact one of the professional bodies listed below – they should be able to provide you with details of local services.

Photo of group therapy by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015