Medically reviewed by psychologist Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D.
Walking into therapy for the first time can feel a little like walking into “The Twilight Zone.” It’s hard to know what to expect and intimidating to think you’ll be sharing so much information with a stranger. Not to mention, each type of therapy has its own guidelines and perspective. And, while the relationship you have with your clinician is perhaps the most important indicator of how well therapy will work for you, not every type of therapy will be a good fit.
Before booking your first therapy session or enrolling in a program, it’s a good idea to find out how your new therapist might meet your needs. After all, you don’t want to be stuck in a room with a counselor whose thoughts on what’s going on for you just don’t jive at all with your experience. Plus, doing a little legwork ahead of time to match the type or types of therapy a counselor uses can help you determine who you might have the best relationship with.
Although some professionals and programs strictly adhere to one type of therapy, many now use several different types of therapy to work with clients. This lets them borrow important skills from each type to better serve your needs. These therapists consider themselves integrative or even eclectic. Keep this in mind as you’re looking for therapist — and taking the following quiz.
This quiz is not professional or medical advice, but simply a way to introduce you to some of the more common types of therapy out there — these are only four of dozens of options. Your results from this quiz will help guide you to what type of therapy may be a good fit for you.
Don’t be worried about answering the questions perfectly. There are no wrong answers. When you are finished with the quiz you will receive your match. For more information on each type of therapy, check below the quiz for more information and where you can find counselors who use those skills in their practice.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It’s been said what you think is who you are. Just ask Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mahatma Gandhi — or even the Bible. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) borrows a little from this concept: By changing your thoughts, you can also change your emotions and behaviors for a more satisfying life.
In the CBT world, your current thoughts, emotions and behaviors interact with each other. By addressing thoughts that don’t help you, CBT therapists believe you’ll start to experience more well-being. Typically, CBT doesn’t delve way back into your childhood and it’s a format that might include homework, like keeping a log of unhelpful thoughts that might pop into your head that make you feel depressed. It’s skills-based and action-oriented, so this is a good fit if you like to get things done efficiently and in a shorter amount of time — CBT therapy is usually completed in less than 20 sessions.
Because CBT is generally very structured and focuses on concrete, in-the-moment skills, it’s especially helpful if you’re dealing with an anxiety or panic disorder, a specific phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Many people with depression, suicidal ideation or self-harm, substance use disorders and eating disorders also find CBT helpful. If you live with chronic pain, your treatment team may recommend CBT because it can help you accept the pain you can’t change and learn new coping skills.
You can find CBT therapists through the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) or Academy of Cognitive Therapy websites.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
If things feel out of control and super intense — your emotions, relationships, even sometimes your behaviors — dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is designed with exactly that in mind. This form of therapy focuses on four main areas to help you master your well-being, including mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal relationships.
DBT was created to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) and those who struggle with persistent suicidal thoughts or self-harm. One of DBT’s strengths is it gives you a toolbox full of useful life skills so you feel more in control, especially when you didn’t learn those basic emotion regulation or relationship skills earlier in life. DBT is also useful if you’re dealing with other mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders and eating disorders, among others.
There are a couple ways you can do DBT. The traditional, full program includes individual sessions with a DBT therapist, a weekly group skills class and phone coaching between sessions. This can get expensive, so you can also look for a therapist with training to incorporate DBT skills into your regular sessions or participate in just a group skills class.
In whatever context you try DBT, be prepared to work. Studies show DBT can be incredibly effective but you’ll have homework, be expected to track your progress and practice your skills regularly. And know DBT is full of acronyms that might seem overwhelming at first, but soon you’ll be PLEASE-skilling and DEAR MAN-ing like a pro.
The premise of psychodynamic therapy is very much based in exploring how the current issues you are dealing with and who you are today originated from your early experiences. By talking through the free associations that come to mind from your past, present, future and dreams, you work with a therapist to find meaning and understanding from your history. These therapists especially focus on their relationship with you, and, traditionally, they use their reactions to you and relationship with you as another tool to help you understand yourself. Relationship is key in psychodynamic formats.
If you’re not a fan of a strict format or homework, are drawn to almost exclusively talk therapy and want to focus on how your past affected you, the more free-flowing nature of psychodynamic therapy may be a good fit for you. Over the years research has shown psychodynamic therapies can help with a variety of mental health conditions, particularly if you’ve experienced trauma.
However, because of the more open format of psychodynamic therapy, if you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts or an active substance use or eating disorder, traditional psychodynamic therapy might not be a good idea. A more structured, skills-based therapy might be needed to make sure you’re safe first. If you still want to work with a psychodynamic therapist in these instances, be sure to ask if they also have training in skills designed to keep you safe during higher-risk times in your life.
Find a psychodynamic therapist near you on Psychology Today.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
If you want to approach your mental health from a well-rounded perspective that takes into account your physical, social, emotional and spiritual health, you might be drawn to interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). Its major tenant suggests struggles in your interpersonal relationships are directly connected to your mental health symptoms. IPT also believes in the medical model of mental illness, so if you often find yourself comparing dealing with a mental illness to a physical illness, IPT might suit you.
This type of therapy focuses mostly on the present and not on therapy itself, but your life in the real world. IPT is very structured and lasts a set amount of time, usually 12 to 16 sessions. It’s based on attachment — the idea your connections with others is one of the most important aspects of your emotional health. By examining and exploring issues in your current relationships, an IPT therapist works to help you develop stronger connections to reduce your mental health symptoms. This work is done using techniques like role-playing and analyzing how you communicate.
IPT was originally created to treat major depressive disorder and studies also found it’s effective for conditions like anxiety and eating disorders. It’s also helpful when you’re moving through transitions in your life, like a divorce, a move to a new city or a new job. This form of therapy can be used in group therapy settings as well.
You can search for an interpersonal psychotherapist near you on Psychology Today.
If there’s a specific type of therapy you want to try, it may be hard to find a professional in your area that’s affordable and available. If you’re having a hard time finding a local therapist, you’re not alone. You can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline for assistance finding mental health treatment resources in your area, including therapy and group support. Mental Health America also provides a resource list for other ways you can find referrals and mental health resources.