7 Types of Therapy That Can Improve Your Mental Health

Thanks in part to social media and a growing number of outspoken celebrities and public figures, the stigma surrounding mental health — and, perhaps more important, the stigma surrounding mental health therapy — is being reduced.

Approximately 44 million adults in the United States are affected by mental illness. Are you one of them? (Image: Stocksy/RG&B Images)

But not everyone in need of mental health help is receiving it — not by a long shot. Research shows that approximately 44 million adults in the United States are affected by mental illness in a given year, yet only half receive treatment. And often those people in therapy have waited years — sometimes decades — after first experiencing symptoms to talk to someone about their problems.

That said, there's a glimmer of hope. Even though many people in need of treatment have yet to receive it, more people in America — especially younger generations — are, at the very least, open to therapy. A 2018 survey from the marketing research firm Barna found that 36 percent of participants were open to the idea of therapy.

Whether you're currently in therapy or are just coming around to the idea of it, it's important to consider which type of treatment is best for you. From marriage counseling to art therapy, here are several types of mental health therapy available in the United States — because no one should suffer in silence.

When it comes to therapy, it’s important to consider your options. (Image: Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash)

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy — a solution-oriented approach that encourages people to change their behavior and views of themselves by changing the way they think — has become increasingly popular in the past few years.

Los Angeles-based cognitive behavioral therapist Nick Holt says that CBT is meant to be short-term and targets goals and problem solving. "CBT is focused on 'automatic thoughts,' which are reflexive thoughts about ourselves, others and the world," Holt says. "These thoughts are representative of the core beliefs we hold of ourselves, such as believing we're inadequate or defective."

This approach to treatment can be tailored to each patient's underlying issues, including phobias, addictions, anxiety, insomnia and depression, says David Plotkin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and instructor at UCLA. So the way he approaches sessions with someone who battles depression is different from the way he coaches those dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Keep in mind, though: No form of therapy is magic. "You may not notice immediate results," Holt says. "However, within a committed and connected psychotherapeutic relationship you may begin to experience some relief."

2. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal psychotherapy is typically used to treat mood disorders, with the primary goal being to improve a person's relationships and social interactions in order to help reduce the duress they're under. IPT, which is considered a newer form of therapy, also has been proven effective for people experiencing distress from a specific life event, such as moving, divorce, the death of a loved one or retiring.

Like cognitive behavioral therapy, IPT doesn't focus on the past, but instead what's currently going on in a person's life. The main difference is that IPT focuses on how a person's thoughts and behaviors apply to their relationships (as opposed to a someone's self-perception). Additionally, IPT doesn't dwell on the negative byproducts of unhealthy relationships, just the relationships themselves.

When a person signs on for IPT, it's for a set period of time, with treatments typically lasting 12 to 16 weeks. A session may involve role playing interactions that took place outside of the office to see how a person could have handled things differently or more effectively. Group sessions are also common in IPT, as people are able to practice their interpersonal skills in a safe, nurturing environment.

3. Marriage and Family Therapy

Another short-term mental health therapy is marriage and family therapy, often referred to as couple's counseling or family counseling. This type of therapy, which usually lasts around 12 weeks, focuses on improving the relationships between two people in a romantic relationship or between members of a family.

In marriage therapy, which was found to be effective for seven out of 10 couples in one 2011 study, therapists often meet with individuals first, and then the couple. In family therapy, sessions are often together, with the therapist occasionally meeting with people individually if needed. Typically, marriage and family therapists identify roles that contribute to behavior that causes conflicts and explore ways to actively resolve issues between people. That said, it can also benefit people individually.

"Marriage and family therapy is helpful for individual or relational work, and, depending on your clinician's specialty, it can help you process and gain better coping skills for a range of struggles from anxiety to depression, trauma, marital strife and grief and loss," says Nicoletta Heidegger, an associate marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.

Looking into marriage counseling? Don't wait too long and make sure you're enlisting a certified marriage and family therapist, preferably one specializing in the area you're looking to improve. "Many MFTs choose to specialize in a particular realm and with a specific population," says Heidegger, who specializes in issues relating to sex and sexuality.

4. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a traditional form of mental health therapy that employs in-depth conversations that address a patient's external world. It's used mainly with those dealing with depression, but it can also work for people dealing with addiction, social anxiety disorder and eating disorders.

In psychodynamic therapy, people are urged to talk about anything and everything that comes to their mind, with the overall goal of putting negative symptoms into remission and increasing the individual's self-esteem. Typically, this type of therapy is ongoing and works best for people who are aware of their issues, but don't quite have the tools to resolve them on their own.

While art therapy is often used with children, it is also an appropriate form of therapy for adults. (Image: SeventyFour/iStock/GettyImages)

5. Art Therapy

In art therapy, people are encouraged to express themselves creatively in the form of drawing, painting, collages, sculpting and other media.

During art therapy sessions, which are often used with children (but can be used for adults as well), the patient and the therapist will come up with a piece of art to create. The therapist will often observe (without judgment) the person as he or she creates. Once the piece is finished, the art therapist will analyze the colors, textures, etc., for emotional undertones.

Art therapy also often includes a form of traditional mental health therapy, such as talk therapy, and the process of creating the art in and of itself is said to have many benefits, particularly for children, including improving problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills and coping strategies.

6. Psychoeducation

Though it's been around for quite a while, psychoeducation — the process of giving individuals (and family members) a stronger base of knowledge about their psychological condition — is more popular than ever.

Though not a specific form of therapy, psychoeducation is crucial in arming people with necessary knowledge about their condition, coping strategies and how and where to get help.

According to Good Therapy, psychoeducation is important, as "many individuals who have a mental health condition know little or nothing about the condition they have been diagnosed with, what they might expect from therapy or the positive and negative effects of any medications they may be prescribed."

Psychoeducation can come in a number of forms, including formal classes, support groups or a therapist explaining to a patient how their mental health issue may impact their life.

7. Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is often used in conjunction with another form of mental health therapy and typically used to help a person deal with a specific behavior, such as smoking, insomnia, phobias and sexual dysfunction. Hypnotherapy works by inhibiting part of the brain.

"In hypnosis, our centers of awareness shift to the internal structures of the brain involved in unconscious processes and long-term memory," says John Mongiovi, a New York City-based board certified hypnotist. "The critical faculty of the conscious mind becomes inhibited, so suggestions can be accepted more readily."

In a typical hypnotherapy session, an individual closes their eyes and is helped to relax deeply. The hypnotist then delivers suggestions and guides the person's imagination. "In some cases, the trance can bring forth memories and resources not normally accessible to the conscious mind," Mongiovi says. "Hypnosis can also reduce stress and anxiety by activating the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system."

Finding the right therapist is just as important as finding the right type of therapy. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/GettyImages)

How to Find the Right Therapist

Perhaps just as important as finding the right type of mental health therapy is finding the right therapist within that specialty. Dr. Plotkin suggests asking around for a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust. If that doesn't work, he recommends visiting a professional organization, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

"I personally think that the most important factor is, what does it feel like to be in the room with the therapist?" Dr. Plotkin says. "Do you feel comfortable and have a good connection? Is this someone with whom you have a good rapport? If you were to come back, would you look forward to seeing the therapist again?"

For those reluctant to see a therapist or for people with extremely busy schedules, there are a number of apps that offer therapy to individuals via Skype, email or other forms of communication that isn't in person. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a list of apps that meet its approval.

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