Which Therapy is Right for Me?
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With so many kinds of therapies and the array of titles and qualifications for therapists, it can become quite confusing and overwhelming when you are looking for the right therapist.
Therefore, having studied psychology and being a licensed therapist, I thought it might be helpful to write an article to clarify the different therapy methods that are out there.
Note that this article by no means covers all existing therapy methods. There are plenty more out there. The reason why I mention this is because I do not want to exclude the possibility that there are therapy methods I haven’t mentioned that might fit your needs.
However, the list of therapy methods being covered here are some of the most effective and scientifically proven methods that have gotten incredible results for many. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Which therapy is right for me?” there is a high chance one of them will be of great help to you.
Having mentioned this, let us dive into the subject and explore together the different therapy methods:
Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT)
Let us start with an effective therapy method aimed at helping children. Although this method can be used with adults, play therapy is primarily used to help children ages 3 to 12.
Any parent or caretaker looking to help a child who has experienced social, emotional, behavioral and relational disorders should consider this method.
It uses play, the natural language of children, to help a child experience full acceptance, empathy, and understanding from the therapist, and allow the child to process their inner experiences and feelings.
The goal of CCPT is to unleash the child’s potential and move toward integration and self-enhancing ways of being. The desired result is to have children learn to express themselves in healthier ways, become more respectful and empathetic, and discover new and more positive ways to solve problems.
CCPT is appropriate for children who have undergone or witnessed stressful events in their lives, such as a severe illness like cancer or hospitalization, domestic violence, abuse, trauma, family crises, or other upsetting changes in their environment.
Somatic Experiencing (SE)
Somatic experiencing is a body-focused trauma therapy conceptualized by clinical psychologist Peter Levine, Ph.D.
Somatic means wholeness of the body and the mind, and somatic experiencing is a specific kind of therapy aimed at helping people who are suffering from trauma and PTSD.
Now, what does body-focused mean? Most people think of trauma as a mental problem or even a brain disorder. However, trauma is something that also happens to the body.
This therapy is not about reclaiming memories or changing our thoughts and beliefs about negative experiences. For one thing, lingering in the past is truly not helpful for dealing with the problems you struggle with in the now.
The Somatic Experiencing approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound inside the body. This therapy looks at the sensations that lie underneath your feelings and uncovers the habitual behavior patterns for these feelings.
For example: During childhood, your mom would get physically abusive with you every time you did the slightest thing wrong. To protect yourself, you would run away. The result is that in adulthood, your body immediately reacts with flight whenever you feel the slightest tension or conflict.
Because in the past, this behavior helped you to survive. However, your body has never worked through the trauma nor has it released this survivor energy.
Therefore, this behavior has followed you to this day, even when it is no longer necessary. In adulthood, this behavior can lead to complications, such as in your romantic relationships.
At the slightest hint of conflict, you may react the same way you did back when you were a young kid. To protect yourself, you take flight, never talking through any conflict with your partner.
What the trauma therapist will do is guide the client through this behavior and develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease.
Another example: A significant number of people become traumatized from the experience of being in a hospital, having surgery, or merely being transported to the hospital. While hospitals are becoming more mindful about this situation, these things still happen.
A young child who is shaking while being transported to the hospital might get strapped down to stop any further movement. While the intent may be to prevent harm to the child, the result—more often than not—is that the child becomes traumatized by this experience: The body, in this situation, is charged with stress that it can’t discharge because its movement is being curtailed; therefore, the stress is trapped and frozen within the individual.
During somatic therapy, the therapist will bring you back to the traumatic experience—this time in a safe environment and with the right tools to handle the situation, so that your body can move through the trauma.
To quote Peter Levine in one of his books, “The only way to fully heal from trauma is to exit it with the same feeling of fear that you had when it was formed; otherwise, that fear can’t be released because you aren’t conscious of it.”
If you suffer from trauma or PTSD, somatic experiencing has been proven to work exceptionally well.
Since a significant percentage of people who seek therapy suffer from trauma, we want to put some extra attention on this topic. There is a vast number of people who go through life with an unhealed trauma, as there are the same number of people who walk around unaware that they have been traumatized in the past.
Since trauma is complex, and this article is aimed at explaining and showing you some great forms of therapy, I suggest you check the interview with Dr. Guy Macpherson, Ph.D., the founder of The Trauma Therapist Project who has been invited on The IPS Podcast to talk in-depth about what exactly trauma is.
Also, I can recommend you watch the animated video we made on the YouTube channel of The IPS Project titled “Are You Traumatized? Discover the Signs and Symptoms of Psychological Trauma.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors, and cognitive processes and contents through several goal-oriented, explicit, systematic procedures.
While some forms of psychotherapy focus on looking into the past to gain an understanding of current feelings, CBT focuses on present thoughts and beliefs as a way of dealing with emotional problems.
CBT works to change people’s attitudes and behaviors by focusing on their thoughts, images, beliefs, and attitudes (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves.
According to CBT, a person’s pattern of thinking is like wearing a pair of glasses that makes us see the world in a specific way. CBT makes us more aware of how these thought patterns create our reality and determine how we behave.
For example, a person with attachment issues might fear to enter into a romantic relationship because they believe all relationships cause pain. This fear may have started with a previous negative experience, perhaps from a past relationship.
A CBT therapist can work with the person to address the faulty way of thinking, which says, “Because I had a negative experience with relationships in the past, all relationships will be the same.”
What also differentiates CBT from many other psychotherapies is the way sessions have a structure, rather than the person talking freely about whatever comes to mind. In this example, you and the therapist will set goals and develop a plan to see romantic relationships in a new way and overcome the fear.
These problems and goals then become the basis for planning the content of sessions and discussing how to deal with them.
In short: If people learn fearful or negative ways of thinking, they can start to think in this way automatically. CBT focuses on challenging these automatic thoughts and comparing them with reality.
If a person can change their way of thinking, their distress decreases and they can function in a way that is more likely to benefit them and those around them.
CBT is useful in a range of problems including depression, anxiety, stress, anger, addiction, negative thinking, eating disorder, etc. Whatever you are currently struggling with, CBT could be a great form of therapy to start with because of its proven effectiveness in treating a range of problems.
Exposure therapy is a technique in behavioral therapy that is used to treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy is also the most successful known treatment for phobias.
As the name of this therapy suggests, exposure therapy involves exposing you to the source of your anxiety or its context without the intention of causing any danger.
When people experience anxiety due to fear, phobia, or traumatic memory, they often avoid anything that reminds them of it. This avoidance might provide temporary relief but ultimately maintains the fear and pattern of avoidance. In some cases, avoidance can make things worse and give more power to the feared entity.
Exposure therapy is based on the principle of respondent conditioning, often termed Pavlovian extinction. The exposure therapist identifies the cognitions, emotions, and physiological arousal that accompany a fear-inducing stimulus and then tries to break the pattern of escape that keeps the fear alive.
For example, while working with someone who has a fear of spiders—arachnophobia—an exposure therapist might first ask the person to picture a spider in his or her mind.
This might lead to several sessions in which the therapist asks the person to imagine more intense scenes with the spider, all while teaching the person some coping skills and providing support.
Once the anxiety response is reduced, the therapist may progress to real-life exposure. In this type of exposure, the therapist might start by placing a contained spider at the far end of the room and lead up to placing the spider in the person’s hand.
If you are suffering from anxiety problems or a phobia that is controlling your life, look for an exposure therapist to start resolving this problem and break free from the anxiety, fear, and phobia you are experiencing.
Couples Therapy (Gottman Method Couples Therapy)
While there are many different types of couples therapies, we’d like to shed light here on the Gottman Method.
Dr. M. Gottman is an American psychological researcher and clinician who did extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability.
As the name might have given away, he is also the person who developed the Gottman Method of couples therapy, which was created based on his research findings.
There are four factors that can predict divorce or a relationship’s inability to last:
- Criticism of the partner’s personality
- Defensiveness, which basically means listening merely to respond instead of listening with the intent of trying to understand
- Stonewalling or refusal to interact
- Contempt, or feeling that one’s partner is worthless, beneath consideration, or deserving scorn
Gottman’s research showed that it wasn’t only how couples fought that mattered, but how they made up.
Marriages, and relationships in general, became stable over time if couples learned to reconcile successfully after a fight.
This therapy aims to increase respect, affection, and closeness between couples, believe and resolve conflict, generate greater understanding, and keep conflict discussions calm.
The Gottman method involves customizing seven principles from the research to each couple’s particular patterns and challenges.
The seven principles are:
- Build Love Maps: This refers to an ongoing awareness of our partner’s world as they move through time: how they think and feel, what day-to-day life is like for them, and their values, hopes, aspirations, and stresses.
- Express Fondness and Admiration: Couples who function well are able to appreciate and enjoy most aspects of each other’s behavior and learn to live with differences.
- Turn Toward One Another: Conversational patterns of interest and respect, even about mundane topics, are crucial to happiness.
- Accept Influence: A couple that takes each other’s preferences into account and are willing to compromise and adapt are happiest.
- Solve Problems That Are Solvable: Couples who can compromise on issues are using the first five tactics. They often start up so the beginning of the conversation leads to a satisfactory end. They offer and respond to repair attempts or behaviors that maintain the emotional connection and emphasize “we/us” over individual needs. They effectively soothe themselves and their partner. They use compromise and negotiation skills. They are tolerant of one another’s vulnerabilities and ineffective conversational habits, keeping the focus on a shared concern for the well-being of the relationship.
- Manage Conflict and Overcome Gridlock: The Gottman Method helps couples manage, not resolve, conflict. Conflict is viewed as inherent in a relationship and something that doesn’t go away.
- Create Shared Meaning: Connection in a relationship occurs as each person experiences the many ways by which their shared history enriches their life together and helps them find meaning and make sense of struggles.
Couples who function effectively treat each other with consideration and are supportive of each other.
Many therapists are familiar with the findings and principles from the relationship research of John Gottman and apply these to their practice.
However, certified Gottman Method therapists have to undergo specific training in the Gottman approach. Therefore, if you want to find a therapist who applies this method of couples therapy, search the internet for a certified therapist trained in the Gottman Method.
Even if there are no major challenges in your relationship, couples therapy can be an incredible way to nurture your relationship and understand your partner better.
SIDE NOTE: If you’d like to learn more about relationships, check out the podcast episode we did with certified sexologist Shan Boodram on The IPS Podcast: EP 020 – “Certified Sexologist Shan Boodram Talks about Sex, Dating, and Relationships”.
Structural Family Therapy (SFT)
Last but not least, let us end this article with family therapy. Just as with couples therapy, there are many types of family therapy. However, Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is one of the most popular.
SFT is a method of psychotherapy developed by Salvador Minuchin, a family therapist. In SFT, the therapist works to uncover any habitual patterns, routines, or behaviors that negatively impact your family dynamics.
At the start of therapy, an SFT practitioner will observe the family and take note of the family’s overall structure.
Creating a chart or a map, the therapist can then move forward and identify specific issues that need to be addressed, and determine which of the observed issues are causing the most problems. This chart or map is then used to create a full, comprehensive treatment plan.
An SFT therapist essentially becomes a part of the family during a session, as they are required to move in and out of the family’s interactions and dynamics to create a safe space in which to vent, speak, and open up.
Together with the therapist, patients work on establishing healthier routines within family structures to create a dynamic, loving, stable home life for everyone.
So, how do you know if your family could benefit from this therapy? Families with children who have a disability, blended families, or families where conflicts happen regularly, could benefit from SFT.
Also, if your family has suffered trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, SFT has been proven to help significantly. What can happen when the family suffers from trauma is that each member retreats into themselves.
During SFT, you create time and space to process the grief and trauma together, instead of trying to process everything separately and create even greater distance than the distance already established before the trauma.
The challenging part, of course, can be to get everyone in the family to agree to join the therapy. It’s essential for the whole family to take part in these sessions. What you can do, if you are uncertain how to accomplish this, is to make an appointment with the therapist to talk about how he/she would take this on.
Together, you can come up with an effective plan to get your family to the therapy session and bring your family closer together.
Question about this article: Which therapy do you think is right for you?
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