About therapy

October 8, 2021
Asifa Rapaiee

About the author: Karen has deep interest in psychology and systemic change. Her research involves around the influence of community in sustainable behaviours.

This article covers:

  • What is therapy?
  • What types of therapies are there?
  • When is therapy needed?
  • How long does therapy last?
  • What does therapy involve?
  • How to get the most out of therapy?

What is therapy?

Therapy refers to a time that you spend talking about your issues and concerns with a mental health professional in a private space. During therapy you work towards the goal of resolving the problem that you have. The problems that can be brought to therapy can include anything from symptoms of a mental illness (e.g., anxiety disorders, depression) to more general life problems (e.g., coping better with school or work).

What types of therapies are there?

There are many different types of therapies out there offered by different therapists .The therapy that is right for you will depend on what type of problem you would like to work on. Different types of problems will require a different approach in therapy. These are the different approaches that therapy might be based on:

Behavioural therapy

This approach to therapy focuses on learning and its impact on certain behaviours. It is often used to eliminate or reduce behaviours that are not helpful for the person. Therapies that fall under this approach include, but are not limited to:

  • Exposure therapy (ET)
  • Applied behavioural analysis (ABA)
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
  • Rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT)

Cognitive therapy

This approach to therapy focuses on the way people think about different situations and events.  The emphasis here is that negative emotions and unhelpful behaviours develop because of dysfunctional ways of thinking.  By changing thinking patterns, you can change how you feel and behave. An example of a therapy that falls under this approach is the well-known Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Humanistic therapy

This approach focuses on the individual as a whole.  You are encouraged to think about your feelings and actions so that you can develop a greater sense of responsibility over them. This approach focuses more on self- exploration and self-development than problematic symptoms. Therapies that fall under this approach include, but are not limited to:

  • Gestalt therapy (GT)
  • Person-centred therapy (PCT)
  • Transactional analysis (TA)
  • Transpersonal therapy

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies

This approach focuses on the unconscious mind and the person’s past and how this influences their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.  These therapies include techniques such as dream analysis, free association,  interpretation and transference to help the client uncover unconscious processes and gain a better understanding of their past and how this affects them in the present.  

Integrative therapy

Therapists that adopt an integrative approach believe that a single type of therapy is not sufficient for helping all clients. Each and every client is different, and therapy needs to be tailored to the individual needs of the client. Therapy will include elements from other approaches to suit the client’s mental, emotional, and physical needs.

The national institute for clinical excellence (NICE) recommends specific therapies for specific problems, although you can still have another form of therapy that is different to the one that is recommended.

When is therapy needed?

You can seek therapy if you feel like you need to. Some indications that you might need help from a mental health professional can include struggling with your thoughts, emotions, or behaviours to the point that it is difficult for you to function as normal. But this is not always necessary, you do not have to be struggling severely before getting help. It is up to you to decide.  You  you can also discuss this with your GP or a therapist before you begin therapy.

How long does therapy last?

Most therapy sessions last between 45 minutes to 1 hour. There are some forms of therapy that can take longer.  The frequency of therapy sessions is typically once per week, but some forms of therapy might take place more often each week.

Overall, therapy can span anywhere between a few weeks to years.  This depends on the type of therapy that you are having and the nature of the issue that you bring to therapy.  For example, CBT can take 16 sessions over the course of 16 weeks, whereas going through DBT might take up to 24 weeks to 1 year.

What does therapy involve?

Therapy involves you and the therapist meeting in-person or online to work on an area in your life. For this to happen, therapy involves many different elements.

At the start of therapy, you will be asked different questions and you might fill out certain questionnaires. This phase is often referred to as the initial assessment. Moving forward, the therapist will build a professional relationship with you, where you can feel comfortable to express yourself and share your feelings. There will be work done during sessions and outside of sessions.  You might be assigned homework throughout therapy. As you reach your goals of therapy, sessions will eventually come to an end. The therapist might then schedule a follow-up session to check-in after a period of time.

How to get the most out of therapy?

To ensure that you get the most of your time with your therapist it might be helpful to keep the following in mind:

  • Try to be clear about what you want- from the beginning of therapy, it is helpful to have an idea of what you would like help with. This will allow both you and the therapist to set clear goals moving forward. Sometimes this is not always straightforward, as you might not yet understand what exactly you need help with. It’s okay if this is the case, you can always explore this together with the therapist.

  • Be honest- the therapist can only help you if they know how you really feel. It is not helpful for you to only say things to please your therapist. Say what you really think and feel. This can get easier as you continue to attend sessions and build relationship with your therapist.

  • Be ready to engage- you will have to make the effort to attend sessions and complete the tasks set by the therapist. The therapist is there to guide and support you and it is up to you to engage with the sessions, so that you can move closer to your goals. This might be difficult to do sometimes, but it will be helpful for you to get the most out of the sessions.

Useful resources


You can find useful information about different types of therapies on the NHS website. Click here to read more.


You can find useful information about different types of therapies on the Mind website. Click here to read more.

The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP)

The BACP is a professional body with useful information about types of therapies on their website. Click here to read more.

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