Therapists and their unique approaches in the therapy room

Talking therapy, or psychotherapy or counselling, is a powerful tool for individuals seeking support and guidance to address emotional, psychological, and behavioural challenges. In my practice, I have met clients who sometimes complain about a previous therapy experience or therapist, saying "She hardly said anything", "He never gave me advice", or "We were just exploring my childhood".


It's because of those clients that I am writing this article. None of them knew before their search for a therapist that various types of therapists learn specific schools of thought within the field of psychotherapy - each offering a unique approach to the therapeutic process.

If you're someone who's looking for a solution-based approach (SFBT) - where the therapist takes an active and directive role, guiding you towards solutions and achievable goals - if you choose a person-centred therapist (PCT), you will experience a non-directive approach and a therapist who acts as a facilitator rather than an expert.

You might meet a great therapist but they don't offer what you're looking for.

This article will explore the diverse landscape of talking therapists and provide examples of what a therapy session might entail with each therapist based on their schools of thought.

1.Psychodynamic therapist

Psychodynamic therapists believe unresolved conflicts and past experiences shape our current behaviours and emotions. They delve into the client's unconscious mind to gain insight into their struggles. In the therapy room, a psychodynamic therapist might encourage the client to explore childhood memories, dreams, and free associations. The therapist acts as a neutral and reflective listener, helping the client understand how past events influence present patterns.

Example: The therapist may guide the client to examine early memories, particularly relationships with parents, to understand how these dynamics impact current relationships and self-perception.

2. Cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT)

CBT therapists focus on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. They help clients identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviours to promote positive change. In a session with a CBT therapist, the focus would be on specific problem-solving and developing coping skills. The therapist may assign homework to practice new techniques outside of therapy sessions.

Example: The therapist might work with the client to challenge cognitive distortions or automatic negative thoughts and assist in reframing them more balanced and realistic.

3. Humanistic therapist

Humanistic therapists emphasise the client's capacity for personal growth and self-awareness. They create a warm and empathetic therapeutic environment to foster self-exploration and self-acceptance. In a session with a humanistic therapist, the therapist would be supportive and non-judgemental, encouraging the client's self-directed change.

Example: The therapist actively listens and reflects on the client's feelings, offering unconditional positive regard and empowering the client to make choices aligned with their authentic self.

4. Gestalt therapist

Gestalt therapists focus on the present moment and how individuals experience their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. They may use role-plays or empty-chair techniques to explore unresolved conflicts or internal struggles. In a session with a Gestalt therapist, the therapist might encourage the client to express suppressed emotions and integrate fragmented aspects of their personality. Gestalt therapists help clients confront their freedom instead of using childhood manipulations to get other people to provide for them.

Example: The therapist may ask the client to speak from different parts of themselves, such as their inner critic or inner child, to gain insight into conflicting feelings or thoughts. 

5. Family systems therapist

Family systems therapists believe individuals' issues are interconnected with family dynamics and relationships. They explore each family member's role in the client's challenges and work toward improving communication and boundaries within the family. In a session with a family systems therapist, the focus would be on understanding family patterns and facilitating healthier interactions.

Example: The therapist might use genograms or family maps to visually represent family relationships and explore patterns of behaviour across generations.

6. Narrative therapist

Narrative therapists help clients reframe their life stories and narratives. They view problems as separate from the client's identity and collaboratively work on creating new, more empowering narratives. In a session with a narrative therapist, the therapist might encourage the client to explore alternative ways of interpreting past events, highlighting moments of resilience and strength to challenge negative self-perceptions.

Example: The therapist may assist the client in externalising their issues, helping them see how their challenges do not define them but rather have the power to shape their narrative.

7. Solution-focused brief therapist (SFBT)

SFBT therapists take a future-focused approach, emphasising the client's resources and abilities. They identify and amplify existing strengths and explore potential solutions instead of focusing on problems. In a session with an SFBT therapist, the therapist would ask questions that help the client envision a better future and take incremental steps towards their desired goals.

Example: The therapist might inquire about times when the client has overcome similar challenges in the past and explore how the client can apply those solutions to their current situation.

8. Integrative therapist

Integrative therapists combine and integrate techniques and concepts from various therapeutic models. They tailor the treatment to the client's needs by drawing upon multiple methods. In a session with an integrative therapist, the therapist may use techniques from different schools of thought to address the client's unique concerns.

Example: The therapist might incorporate elements of cognitive-behavioural therapy to address specific narratives and behaviours, psychodynamic exploration to understand underlying issues, and humanistic support to promote personal growth.

9. Person-centred therapist

Person-centred therapists, also known as client-centred or Rogerian therapists, prioritise the client's autonomy and self-direction. They create a supportive and non-judgmental environment, offering unconditional positive regard and empathy. In a session with a person-centred therapist, the focus would be on the client's internal frame of reference, exploring their feelings, thoughts, and values.

Example: The therapist would actively listen, empathise with the client's emotions, and refrain from giving advice or solutions, allowing the client to lead the therapeutic exploration. 

The world of talking therapists is rich and diverse. Each type offers a unique lens through which clients can explore their emotional landscapes and personal growth.

Whether clients seek psychodynamic insight, cognitive-behavioural strategies, humanistic support, gestalt exploration, family systems understanding, narrative reframing, solution-focused empowerment, integrative flexibility, or person-centred empathy, therapists are there to provide a safe and healing space for their client's journeys towards well-being and positive change.

The variety of therapeutic approaches ensures that individuals find the right fit to meet their needs and embark on a transformative and enriching therapeutic experience.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Brentford, Middlesex, TW8
Written by Agnieszka Jacewicz, Psychotherapist | UKCP Accred
Brentford, Middlesex, TW8

Integrative Transpersonal Psychotherapist based in the UK, Brentford and online.

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