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What Are the 4 Major Forms of Therapy in Psychology?

author image Sarah Harding
Sarah Harding has written stacks of research articles dating back to 2000. She has consulted in various settings and taught courses focused on psychology. Her work has been published by ParentDish, Atkins and other clients. Harding holds a Master of Science in psychology from Capella University and is completing several certificates through the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association.
What Are the 4 Major Forms of Therapy in Psychology?
A psychologist will always take notes. Photo Credit dima_sidelnikov/iStock/Getty Images


There are four major forms of therapy in the field of psychology. These include psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and eclectic theories. From these four major theories have sprung dozens, if not hundreds, of variations and other theories. As a therapist, a psychologist must fully understand these four major theories and select the techniques that best fit both her beliefs and her client's needs. It is not unusual for a psychologist to combine one or more of the theories to guide her patient, which can be considered to be an eclectic approach to psychotherapy.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy, or psychoanalytic therapy, is one of the oldest theories of psychology, PsychCentral.com explains. The core belief of this theory is that no matter the person's age, the issues he experiences are based on childhood experiences. Modern psychologists, unless trained as psychoanalysts, do not subscribe to this theory in its entirety. Instead, a therapist may examine the patient's history and pull out certain events that may be influencing the current issues. Most psychologists agree that much of a patient's present behavior and thoughts have something to do with the upbringing and child-rearing techniques experienced growing up. True psychodynamic therapists examine the unconsciousness of a patient and interpret the outward thoughts, behaviors and expressions as related to a developmental stage from childhood. This means an adult stuck in a developmental stage, such as the "anal stage," may exhibit behaviors that seem rigid and may be unwilling to express thoughts or feelings.

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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The foundation of the cognitive-behavioral theory (CBT) method is that the cognitive patterns (thought patterns) a patient has learned affect his outward behavior. PsychCentral.com elaborates that cognitive-behaviorists typically accept that social learning in childhood plays an important role in development. What a child learns at an early age by observing the world around him can affect his behavior and thoughts for the rest of his life without effort, such as therapy, toward change.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy focuses on the present and the inner good of humans. As AllPsych.com points out, the humanistic approach helps patients gain self-awareness and work on self-improvement. Regardless of a person's negative thoughts or behaviors, she still is perceived as inherently good and valuable. Patients must take responsibility for behaviors and thoughts. This means realizing that everyone has the choice to do what is right or what is wrong. Environmental influences have nothing to do with such choices; instead, the individual has her own reasons for making such decisions. Humanists accept that humans struggle to search for meaning and that this ongoing process is important to existence.

Eclectic Therapy

Eclectic therapy is sometimes the root of controversy. Some psychologists argue that eclecticism means not having any theory to follow, leaving the psychologist to guide a patient blindly. Those in favor of this method argue that it allows patients more effective treatment because the psychologist is not limited in tools and exercises. Eclectic therapists pull from numerous theories they have studied intensely, including some of the other major forms of therapy. Depending on the client, the therapist can select one or many different approaches to deal with one situation.

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