Life is complicated. Many psychological issues begin in childhood and beyond our ability to control or understand them. Our biology also has a large effect on our emotional and psychological makeup. Other issues may develop over many years as a result of external influences or choices we make, sometimes innocently and without awareness of long-term consequences. Individual therapy, also known as counseling, talk therapy or psychotherapy, is a path to understanding these issues and taking steps to minimize or eliminate those that have an obstructive or negative effect on daily functioning. The goal is clear and simple – to markedly improve the quality of your life in a meaningful way.
Individual therapy is collaboration between a person and a trained therapist done in a safe and confidential environment. At its best, it is the forming of a deeply connected and personal special relationship, in which a profound understanding and acceptance of self also leads to healing and growth in important and lasting ways.
In many cultures, due to extensive research on the success of many forms of therapy and the positive changes that many thousands of people have made in their lives, the previous stigma about working with a therapist has dramatically diminished. Today seeing a therapist is considered a healthy choice for many, as well having a positive impact on family, friends and coworkers.
An individual may work with a therapist for as few as one to six sessions or more and sometimes many more to resolve a current challenge in mood, thought patterns, emotional disregulation, negative self-image or trouble relationships .
While disruptive emotional habits and barriers are confronted in therapy, it’s common to experience the positive balancing that occurs. Many people discover an increase in their feelings of compassion, self-esteem, love, courage, peace and strength.
Types of Individual Therapy
Just as each person’s life experiences are unique, the type of therapy or combination of therapies must be uniquely fitted to the individual. The reasons people begin individual therapy are extensive and can be as varied as childhood sexual abuse, alcohol or drug addiction, depression, anxiety or relationship issues.
That’s why a trained and trusted therapist is important for success in making a diagnosis and determining, with the individual, the best strategy for initiating positive changes.
For many therapies, research involving large numbers of people has provided evidence that treatment is effective for specific disorders. These “evidence-based therapies” have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
These are some of the most common types of individual therapy Its important to understand that many therapists use an eclectic approach to therapy which may utilize aspects of several approaches. Another important fact to know is that most studies show that the single most important factor in successful therapy is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist. When the utmost level of trust, mutual respect, deep understanding and shared goals can be established, most forms of therapy stand a good chance at success. With that said, here are some of the more common schools of therapy:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Referred to as CBT, this is the leading psychological treatment proven by research to be effective for many mental health disorders, including depression, post traumatic stress disorder or eating disorders. CBT is a type of “talk therapy” that helps a person become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking and develop positive responses to challenging situations. For example, if a person emphasizes being a failure at work and relationships and believes that “everything turns out badly,” a therapist applying techniques of CBT would help that person identify instances where work projects and relationships worked out well, and begin to put these issues in perspective. Turning the focus toward accurate and successful situations could help that person put more enthusiasm into work projects or developing personal relationships, and spark new approaches that continue to provide positive feedback.
Attachment Theory: The intricacies of attachment, focusing on the child’s bond with the primary caregiver, often the mother, may affect a person’s relationships throughout life. Attachment theory views this critical childhood relationship as a process that begins at birth and extends into the early years of life. Early intervention with children who have attachment issues can ease the way for them later in life. Research has also shown that adults who have attachment issues can benefit from therapy by understanding what healthy relationships look like and learning new ways to form constructive bonds with friends, children and romantic partners.
Person Centered: This therapy is based on the concept that nature, including human nature, tends toward balance and order and that people have an inherent capacity to move toward self-fulfillment or “self-actualization.” Person-centered therapy emphasizes a shared responsibility between the individual and the therapist, and instead of distancing the therapist as an “expert” it emphasizes a more collaborative and empathetic approach.
Relational Therapy: Sometimes referred to as relational-cultural therapy, this approach is based on the concept that mutually satisfying relationships are necessary for a person’s emotional well-being. Relational therapy takes into account social factors such as race, class, culture and gender and issues that develop as a result of these factors. This therapeutic approach is especially helpful for people experiencing distress from family, romantic, professional or social relationships. The goal is to find new ways to create healthier relationships.
Positive Psychotherapy: Mental health professionals are increasingly including “positive psychology” as part of the strategy to help individuals find meaning and fulfillment in life. It complements the focus on psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and phobias with the concept that people want more than an end to suffering – they want to discover the best within themselves and enhance their experiences in love, work and play. It is based on three central concerns – positive individual traits such as courage and compassion, positive experiences, and in the larger perspective, positive institutions and communities that foster social justice and shared purpose.
Overall Goal of Individual Therapy
The extensive range of individual psychotherapy options offers promise in the effort to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.
Whatever form of therapy or combination of therapies is used, the most important factor is the establishment of great trust, deep understanding, empathy, respect and the willingness of the individual and therapist to collaborate consistently and compassionately on the path toward increased well-being.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, “Individual Therapy,” 2009
Goodtherapy.org, “Types of Therapy,” 2017
National Institute of Mental Health, “Psychotherapies,” November 2016
Mayo Clinic, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” 2017
Goodtherapy.org, “Attachment Issues,” May 23, 2107
Graziottin, Tiane C., “The Person-Centered Approach,” The Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach, 2015
Goodtherapy.org,” Person-Centered Therapy,” April 11, 2017
Psychology Today, “Relational Therapy,” 2017
Seligman, Martin, “Our Mission,” Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, 2017