Therapeutic Approaches in Psychology: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:00 What Is Therapy?
  • 0:40 Theory & Approaches in…
  • 5:14 Other Therapeutic Approaches
  • 5:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

There are many therapeutic approaches to treating mental disorder. In this lesson, you will learn about the most prominent types of psychotherapy then test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Therapy?

There are two major types of therapy for treating mental disorders. Biomedical therapy is the use of medical interventions, most often prescription medication. Psychotherapy has been found to be just as effective and involves a mental health professional who is trained in the therapeutic approaches in psychology. Often, both work in harmony with the psychiatrist and psychotherapist, collaborating to create the best treatment for the patient. Psychotherapy, known more commonly as talk therapy or counseling, has very high success rates when paired with biomedical therapy.

Theory and Approaches in Psychotherapy

All states have licensing regulations for psychotherapists. Clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists have done extensive post-graduate study in the therapeutic approaches to treating mental disorders. These mental health counselors may have certain areas of expertise, but all are aware of the following therapeutic approaches discussed in this lesson and which situations they work best in.

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychoanalysis is the therapeutic approach that was originally developed by Sigmund Freud. While Freud is infamous for his focus on unconscious, often sexual, desires from early childhood, he played a founding role in modern talk therapy. A psychoanalyst's task is to uncover the unconscious conflicts within a client and help to provide clarity and insight. This is done through various techniques, such as free association, where a client speaks freely about whatever comes to mind, as well as dream analysis. Psychoanalysis is also known for being a very long process with mixed results.

Modern therapists use an updated form of psychoanalysis called psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy still puts attention on childhood experiences and unconscious conflicts but is more focused on the client's present situation and specific problems.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on correcting irrational or troublesome behavior. This type of therapy developed from classical and operant conditioning, uses these principles to reduce or stop the maladaptive behavior(s) and retrain new, more adaptive behaviors. A behavioral therapist is exceptionally suited to treating specific anxieties and phobias. Techniques such as systematic desensitization slowly introduce the situation that provokes fear (such as snakes, planes, or public speaking) and replaces the anxious reactions with relaxation techniques.

Cognitive Therapy

While behavioral therapy focuses on changing a client's behaviors, cognitive therapy focuses on changing a client's thinking. This does not mean brainwashing; the goal of cognitive therapy is to identify the irrational thoughts and beliefs and help the client alter those beliefs. Cognitive therapists believe that emotions follow thoughts. Therefore, changing a maladaptive thought pattern to a more adaptive thought pattern aids the client. Some cognitive therapists are considered much more direct with their patients than therapists who follow other approaches. Cognitive therapy often focuses on a client's use of the words 'must,' 'always,' and 'should', and is particularly effective at reducing perfectionist thinking and treating depressive disorders.

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