Why different forms of therapy exist and what really works
Updated: Nov 9
Thanks to the wealth of information available to us now on the internet, many of us have a chance to read up about our issues and different ways to solve them before we've even decided to go to therapy. If we're curious about a disorder, we can look it up and we will find a plethora of descriptions of the disorder, experiences of people with that disorder and stories of how they healed. As motivating as it is, sometimes too much information can be overwhelming. If you've looked up therapy, you've probably encountered different methods and ways it is done, and may wonder what is best for you and why there are so many. In this article, I'll be presenting two of the most common forms of therapy used today, what they are used for, and what part of therapy is actually the most important factor in deciding your treatment outcome.
Therapy comes in many forms, and methods, usually backed by schools of thought in psychology. That means that every method I will present has been researched and developed empirically by different groups of psychologists who describe human behavior in different ways. For example, we'll start with the most well-known form of therapy: cognitive-behavioral therapy (or CBT).
Aaron T. Beck and colleagues who developed this method see psychological problems as stemming from cognitive distortions that lead us to believe negative, unhelpful things about ourselves and to feel bad about ourselves. These thoughts distort our worldview and lead us to behave in ways that are harmful to our mental health. According to this framework, directly addressing the behavioral symptoms along with the beliefs and ideas supporting those symptoms is key to treating emotional problems. This is why CBT is so famous: it treats the symptom of what you're going for by helping you implement new ideas and behaviors you can put into practice right away and see emotional change quickly. As awesome as that may sound, CBT is not the only method because it isn't always effective in certain situations. That brings us to the next biggest therapeutic method, psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis, based in the teachings of Sigmund Freud, has been getting backlash despite it's unrelenting popularity as an effective method for people who prefer to talk about their past, make connections between the now and their childhood and even begin to unravel unconscious traumas or memories that bring light to their current problems. This method was developed by psychologists who view early childhood as a key stage in our psychological development that can impact our behavior and our relationships unconsciously. They believe that the therapeutic work happens through talking and slowly lighting the way to your deepest self in order to uncover the reasons behind the problem and work on how to change our perception of it to bring about the needed change. That means lots of talking and analysis of your earliest memories and making connections with the here and now.
As you can probably see, these are two very different approaches. However, both have been shown empirically to be effective in treating certain disorders better than others, and sometimes worse than others. Many factors also affect the effectiveness of these methods, such as the client-s personality or preferences. Some people respond very well to psychoanalysis, while others respond much better to CBT. If you have never done therapy before, how are you to know which method to choose? Well, let me hopefully reassure you that you don't need to go on a huge research spree and get a degree in psychological research before deciding on a therapist. Just focus on one thing: How you feel when you are with the therapist.
Time and time again, across many studies comparing not just those two methods above, but many more, the most important factor that correlates with better treatment outcome is the therapeutic alliance. That simply means the quality of your relationship with your therapist is hands down the most important factor that affects your treatment. If you feel heard, understood and supported by your therapist, that effectively beats any method that the therapist may use to treat your problem significantly. A therapeutic alliance that encourages client engagement, builds feelings of trust, safety and empathy and supports the client emotionally is ideal.
So now that you know what's in it, let your therapist put their years of study into practice and decide what they'll do with your treatment. If you trust them and follow through with the work, you're sure to feel a difference. The most important thing is you find the one you enjoy the work with.