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Therapy 101: A Beginner's Guide to the Different Types of Therapy and Finding the Right Therapist

Updated: Apr 25

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Your guide

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Introduction to Therapy

Therapy, also called psychotherapy or counselling, is a process focused on helping people understand, manage or overcome problems, situations, past events, or patterns that are causing them to feel stuck, and offer resources and support to create change and feel better. The goal is to help clients understand themselves, use new tools or strategies, gain insight into their emotions, thoughts, body, patterns, or behaviours, strengthen relationships, and live more fulfilling lives.

There are many ways therapy can benefit mental health. It provides support, skills, and tools to manage challenging situations and symptoms, such as anxiety, ADHD, trauma, and relationships. Through regular sessions, therapists create a safe space for clients to explore thoughts, feelings, and experiences that may be difficult to process alone, which helps clients build self-awareness, agency, and emotional resilience. It also gives people an ongoing outlet for stress and life challenges. Overall, therapy aims to reduce suffering and improve one's ability to function in various areas of their life.

While it takes time and commitment, therapy can lead to long-term improvement in mental & physical health and quality of life. The goals are highly personalized, based on each client's unique needs. But the overall purpose is to provide understanding and clarity, foster insights, and offer continued support on the journey towards a new relationship with self and others.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behavior patterns. It is one of the most widely-used and research-backed therapies. CBT aims to help people identify distorted thinking that causes emotional distress and replace these thoughts with more realistic, positive alternatives (Hofmann et al., 2012).

CBT has proven highly effective for treating many common mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, OCD and PTSD. In numerous studies, CBT has led to significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression (David et al., 2018).

Some of the main techniques used in CBT include:

  • Cognitive restructuring to identify and dispute irrational or unhelpful thoughts

  • Exposure therapy and desensitization to confront fears

  • Behavioral experiments to test negative predictions

By changing thought patterns and behaviors, people can develop better coping skills and experience long-lasting relief from mental health issues. CBT provides clients with practical tools to challenge the cognitive processes and build positive habits that help with overall well-being.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy aims to help people gain greater self-awareness of their unconscious thoughts, emotions, and motivations. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, psychodynamic therapy focuses on unconscious processes as they relate to current behaviours. The main goals are to help clients resolve past emotional conflicts and become less vulnerable to habitual response patterns linked to the past, often stemming from our growing up years.

Psychodynamic therapy tends to be a longer-term treatment and can take more time. The therapist helps guide the client towards developing insights into their emotions, thoughts, experiences and behaviors. By exploring a client's past and bringing unconscious urges and desires to the surface, psychodynamic therapy aims to help people gain control over issues caused by past trauma.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy focuses on helping people achieve their full potential and become self-actualized. The goal is to promote personal growth and self-esteem. According to the humanistic approach, people are inherently good and have an innate need for positive regard. This type of therapy uses a client-centered approach that lets clients guide the direction of sessions. Therapists create a comfortable, nonjudgmental environment where clients can explore their feelings and gain self-awareness (Elliott, 2002).The therapist is warm, genuine, and accepting.

Techniques in humanistic therapy include active listening, empathic responses, and open-ended questioning. This allows clients to open up about their true thoughts and emotions. The therapist validates the client's feelings and provides unconditional positive regard.

Humanistic therapy helps build self-esteem and confidence. It empowers clients to fulfill their potential and live more authentically.

Group Therapy

Group therapy, as the name suggests, involves working with a therapist and a small group of people who are experiencing similar issues. Group therapy provides a supportive environment where members can share struggles and feel less alone. Some key benefits of group therapy include:

- Supportive environment with others going through similar experiences. Group therapy provides a sense of community and allows members to feel understood (APA).

- Gain new perspectives. Hearing other members share and getting feedback provides new insights into one's own situation.

- Led by a qualified therapist. The therapist facilitates discussion, provides guidance, and ensures a safe environment.

Group therapy can be very beneficial for those dealing with addiction, grief, trauma, relationship issues, and more. The group dynamic often helps speed progress and growth.

Family Therapy

One of the top ways to manage mental health issues is through family therapy. The goal of family therapy is to improve relationships and communication between family members (Jiménez, 2019). Family therapists identify negative interaction patterns and establish healthier ways for the family to relate to one another (Asen, 2002). There are different types of family therapy approaches.

In structural family therapy, the therapist examines the power structure and boundaries between family members. The goal is to reorganize the family system for healthier functioning. Families are encouraged to embrace change while still honoring family roles and hierarchy (Sexton, 2010).

Strategic family therapy focuses on solving specific problems the family is facing. The therapist gives direct guidance about how the family should interact differently to resolve conflicts. Family members learn new communication strategies to reduce dysfunctional behaviors (Asen, 2002).

Research shows family therapy can significantly improve outcomes in mental health treatment. Patients undergoing family therapy continue improving even after treatment ends. One study found a 75% long-term success rate for family therapy (Asen, 2002). Overall, family therapy empowers families to nurture change and growth within themselves.

A Guide to Choosing the Right Therapy

There are several important factors to consider when choosing the right type of therapy for your needs:

First, reflect on your personality and preferences. For example, if you are very introverted, group therapy may not be the best fit. But if you crave social support, group settings could be ideal.

It's also crucial to consider your specific mental health concerns or diagnoses. Certain therapies are proven more effective for certain conditions - CBT for anxiety and depression, psychodynamic therapy for relationship issues, etc. Research which modalities target your symptoms.

Don't be afraid to try different options until you find the right therapeutic approach. It may take meeting with a few different practitioners to determine what resonates best. Be open and honest with therapists about what works and doesn't work for you.

Also examine a potential therapist's background, specialties and credentials. Look for someone with expertise in your areas of concern. Verify they have proper education and certification. Referrals from trusted sources can help narrow your search here.

The most important factor is choosing a therapist you feel comfortable opening up to. The best therapeutic relationship is based on trust, empathy and rapport. Don't ignore your gut instinct if something feels off.

With some reflection on your needs and trial-and-error, you can find the therapist and modality that fits just right. Approach the process with patience and self-knowledge.

A Guide for Finding a Good Therapist

When searching for a therapist, it's important to find someone who is qualified. In BC, we do not have a regulatory college, however it is coming. For right now, there is not ONE TITLE or designation for counselling therapists in BC - and this can be confusing for the public. It is a good idea to check credentials, education, and experience. If a therapist claims to belong to a certain association, go to the association's website, locate the directory and search the name of the therapist. It should come up. If it doesn't.... whoooaaaaa. Red flag.

Here are some designations you may come across or recognize:

  1. CCC: Certified Canadian Counsellor - Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association

  2. RCC: Registered Clinical Counsellor - BC Association of Clinical Counsellors

  3. RTC: Registered Therapeutic Counsellor - Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists of Canada

  4. RSW: Registered Social Worker - BC College of Social Workers *RSWs do belong to a regulatory college.

You may also want to consider areas of expertise to find a therapist who specializes in treating your specific concerns. For example, a therapist who treats trauma and PTSD will have different qualifications and skills than one focused on family therapy.

In addition to formal training and credentials, the personality match and comfort level with your therapist is key. I like to compare it to finding your favourite ice cream flavour: you might have to try a bunch before you find one you like! In all seriousness, the connection you have with them is one of the most important pieces of a trusting, safe therapeutic alliance.

You might also consider practical factors like appointment availability and flexibility, and it helps to ask potential therapists about their cancellation policies, appointment times, payment options, and availability for between-session contact. You don't want to start with a therapist only to realize you can't get in for another session for 5 weeks.

With attention to credentials, specialization, personality fit and logistics, you're more likely to find an effective therapist suited to your needs. Mindwise Counselling has 3 different designations of therapists, with various specializations, and personalities to suit your needs.

Benefits of Therapy

Therapy provides many benefits that can greatly improve mental health and wellbeing. Some of the main benefits include:

Release the Past and Develop Understanding, Skills and Insight

One of the primary goals of therapy is to help people develop healthy coping mechanisms and gain insight into their thoughts, emotions, body, and behaviours. Through techniques like CBT, clients learn how to challenge negative thought patterns and adopt more constructive ways of thinking and doing. Other therapies like EMDR, DBT, Somatic Therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and Internal Family Systems help people gain awareness of past experiences or patterns getting in the way and then develop skills to improve their day-to-day experiences.

Reduce Anxiety and Depression

Numerous studies show that therapies like CBT , DBT and interpersonal therapy can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Clients are given tools to manage negative emotions, handle stressful situations, and break destructive thought cycles.

Gain skills, Gain Confidence

The support, guidance, and insight provided through therapy can help build self-esteem and self-confidence. Humanistic and psychodynamic approaches focus on helping people realize their full potential. Group workshops or programs can offer peer support, resource sharing, and connection. As people learn, understand, acquire new skills and ways of being, their belief in themselves strengthens.

Ongoing Support System

One of the most valuable aspects of therapy is having an ongoing resource to turn to for support. Life's challenges don't disappear after therapy ends. Therapists can provide a source of guidance and encouragement long after the initial issues that led to seeking treatment are resolved. Over the last 10 years, I have watched the public perception of counselling shift from crisis response intervention to a long-standing supportive relationship. It is a privilege to watch this shift happen for acceptance and support of mental health.

Affordable Therapy Options

Therapy can be costly, but there are ways to make it more affordable so you can still get the help you need. Here are some options to look into:

  1. Check your health insurance coverage. Many plans provide partial coverage for mental health services. Contact your insurer to learn about your benefits.

  2. Look for therapists who offer a sliding scale fee based on your income. Many of us offer sliding scales.

  3. Consider online or virtual therapy sessions which tend to be more affordable than traditional in-person therapy. Platforms like BetterHelp offer financial aid.

  4. Use mental health resources available through your school or workplace. Many provide free counselling services or programs to assist with therapy costs.

  5. Support groups can provide free peer counselling and therapy alternatives.

  6. Some therapists offer workshops or group programs.

  7. Student therapists provide affordable, reduced cost counselling


Therapy is an invaluable form of support for those who need help with their mental health and relationships. The benefits of receiving counselling are well-documented. It can help you better understand your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours while also providing you with tools and strategies for anxiety, ADHD, trauma, and relationships. By seeking counselling when needed, you open a door to greater self-awareness, peace of mind, and stronger interpersonal bonds with those around you.

If you feel like you're struggling and could benefit from having someone to talk to, don't hesitate to reach out for help. We love helping people get unstuck and feel better!

Here is the link to get connected with someone on our team.

Thanks for being here,

Rolynda Simpson. M.Ed, CCC

Owner and Clinic Director

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