If you’re baffled by all the different types of counselling on offer, you’re not alone
Person-centred, psychodynamic, transpersonal, relational, cognitive behavioural, Jungian, Gestalt, humanistic, sensorimotor, EMDR…. oh, and Integrative (that’s me and you can read more about me here!). There are all kinds of counselling on offer and it may not always be clear what the differences are.
Here I’m going to run through the most common labels you might encounter when you’re searching for a therapist and briefly try to explain some of the key aspects of those.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
It’s likely that if you go for counselling in the NHS, particularly for something like anxiety, depression or OCD, you’ll be offered this as a first treatment. It focuses on the relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours – working on the basis that if you can actively notice and change your unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, that enables change in the feelings and behaviours. There’s usually a strong emphasis on clients doing ‘homework’ between sessions to work on themselves.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing was developed specifically to treat traumatic memories. It seeks to replicate the part of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) to help take the emotional intensity out of traumatic memories, enabling them to be processed so that they stop causing such distressing symptoms.
This explores the inner conflict that we may experience (often manifesting in anxiety or depression) when faced with big life issues such as our own mortality or a search for meaning. The focus of this therapy will be an acknowledgement of the despair that can exist alongside finding ways to create meaning and value in the lives we are leading.
This places a lot of emphasis on the ‘here and now’ moments of what you are thinking, feeling and experiencing as you talk with your counsellor. The idea is to bring new awareness to these. In doing so, you will be encouraged to be active and creative in sessions, taking responsibility for, and building understanding of, your feelings and responses.
Increasingly in the therapy world it’s being recognised that a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be very effective. Integrative therapists therefore, blend (under an overarching umbrella) several different approaches. This enables them to tailor their approach to each individual client. My own blend is informed by humanistic, psychodynamic and cognitive behavioural approaches.
Coming from Carl Jung (a colleague of Freud), this approach is led by a belief that our own individual unconscious is part of a wider collective unconscious made up of archetypes common to all of humanity. A Jungian therapist will use these powerful archetypes to help a client understand themselves and why perhaps they find it hard to break away from certain feelings or patterns of behaving. You can expect to work creatively, and particularly with dreams, in this kind of therapy.
This is both the cornerstone of many therapies, and a form of counselling in itself. It’s based around the idea of there being certain therapeutic conditions which, when provided, enable growth for clients. The counsellor’s main focus therefore will be on providing these conditions which can be summarised as acceptance, empathy and holding a client in ‘unconditional positive regard’. You’ll be seen as the expert on yourself and encouraged to build awareness and acceptance of yourself.
This has a focus on the parts of you that are outside of your everyday awareness or which are from your earlier life – but that perhaps play out in your feelings, thoughts and relationships today. It will encourage you to explore significant early relationships and it also looks at how you relate to your therapist – using this to build further awareness of yourself. It is not generally undertaken as a short term therapy, as all of these aspects of it take time to build.
This is a body-focused approach to treating trauma, based on the idea that our bodies ‘hold’ trauma at a very deep level and that therefore this is the gateway through which to treat it. A client will be gently encouraged to build awareness of their physical feelings whilst simultaneously working with prior trauma memories in order to resolve them in a way that perhaps they were unable to at the time.
A key aspect of this views people as existing within three states: adult, parent and child and a therapist trained this way will use this concept to help you better understand yourself and your relationships. They will also look at your beliefs about yourself and the world around you; what shaped them and how these play out in all areas of your life so that you can build awareness and make the changes that you’d like to.
If what you’re interested in, isn’t listed here or you’d like to read more about other therapies, this BACP page is another great resource.