There are lots and lots of different types of therapy out there – probably more than you could ever imagine. Some of these are more common and available on the NHS, and others you might have to hunt a bit further for. It can get confusing and perhaps seem overwhelming with so many options available, so here’s a short breakdown of some commonly used types of therapy. If you think you would benefit from one of them, speak to your G.P. and find out what the options are. It may be that there is a long waiting list, or it is not available in your area, but by starting that conversation and asking questions, you might be pointed in the direction of a helpful source of support. The following descriptions are very basic, but hopefully should provide a starting point for further research if you are interested.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT has become a very popular therapeutic approach and one that has gained a lot of credibility over the last decade or so. It is a ‘forward-thinking’ form of therapy, which looks more at how to cope with your present difficulties, rather than delving deep into your past; it is ‘problem focussed’ – honing in on the specific difficulty – and ‘action-orientated’ – trying to find a workable and active solution to that problem. It is primarily concerned with ‘unlearning’ the patterns of thinking which cause us unhappiness, and is thus most used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. The way we think (our cognitive processes) impacts on our feelings and behaviour, so if we can start to recognise the thought patterns that trap us (blowing things out of proportion, seeing things in black and white, etc.) we can start to feel more grounded in reality and hopefully calmer. CBT also uses mindfulness meditation and body-calming techniques to help centre us in the here and now. In 2008, the NHS trained a lot of professionals in CBT as part of an initiative called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), so that it could be used to treat more people and hopefully mean fewer people were prescribed medication without access to a talking-therapy. It is popular with both health services and patients because it is quite a short, focussed process, and doesn’t require months of therapy.
The most famous psychoanalyst is Sigmund Freud, and when you picture someone lying on a couch talking about their dreams to a man with a beard, this is the school of therapy that originates from. Psychoanalysis is concerned with our subconscious mind, digging deep into the thoughts and desires we didn’t know we had, but which manifest themselves as unhappiness or anxiety in our day-to-day lives. Psychoanalysis can take many years and can be a big commitment; some people attend five times a week, although on the NHS this is unlikely. Although we have moved on from many of Freud’s theories (such as the famous Oedipus Complex, which suggests all men want to marry their mothers and murder their fathers), psychoanalysis does still concern itself with dreams and symbolism.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT, developed in the late 1980s, is less well known than the previous two, but – like CBT – uses mindfulness strategies, and is focused on acceptance. It is designed to increase psychological flexibility, and can be run in groups on individually. ACT’s main difference from CBT is that whereas CBT tries to teach people to unlearn or change ‘unhelpful’ ways of thinking and behaving, ACT teaches them to simply notice, accept and embrace these thoughts, feelings and sensations. It encourages you to act in accordance with your values, working out what’s important to you and then committing yourself to goals which align with your values.
Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)
CAT is a type of therapy which brings together ideas from different therapies – both cognitive and analytic, as the same suggests. In this way it both looks back at your past, like psychoanalysis, and forward at your future, like CBT. Together the client and therapist explore the events and relationships in a person’s life, often from a very young age, which affect how they think, feel and act now. It has a strong focus on an empathic relationship between the client and therapist, within clear therapeutic boundaries, and is also time-limited, usually lasting for 16 sessions.