Defining Therapy Treatment Options

By Nina Bradshaw is a professionally qualified social worker and therapist in the UK. She earned a Master's Degree in Personality Disorder Studies, a Master's Degree in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and a Master's Degree in Sociology/Social Policy/Social Work.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

There are a variety of reasons people seek out a therapist—from dealing with a substance use disorder, anxiety, grief, stress to any other issues that need to be managed. Just as varied also are the array of techniques therapists use to help each client.

To help you decide on which approach may be best for you, here’s an overview of available therapies on the market that’s used to treat substance abuse and mental health problems.

Your therapist can approach treatment a number of ways. Here’s an overview of some of the most commonly used therapy techniques for treating substance use and mental health issues.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very common type of therapy. At its most basic, it aims to help people recognize the links between their thoughts, feelings, behavior and emotions. It also teaches people to challenge existing negative thought patterns and change unhelpful behaviors.

CBT is known to have many offshoots. Behavior therapists, for example, focus purely on behavioral change, placing no emphasis on thoughts at all. Cognitive therapists, on the other hand, pay more attention to ending unhelpful and negative thought patterns.

Later developments within CBT, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Compassionate Mind Therapy (CMT), incorporate elements of Buddhism and aim to apply a more “transdiagnostic approach” by looking beyond the diagnosis to find common elements among all emotional problems. Metacognitive Therapy (MCT) is also a newer form of CBT that focuses on people’s metacognitions, or overarching thoughts about themselves and their life.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a group and individual-based therapy originally developed to treat the symptoms of self-harm and suicidality for people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It is broadly based on CBT, but also includes mindfulness, self-soothing exercises and radical acceptance as it aims to offer validation to people who have been brought up in an invalidating environment. Treatment usually lasts at least one year and takes the form of group and individual sessions.

Emotional Freedom Technique

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), tends to draw on a variety of alternative healing methods, including acupuncture and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It is sometimes also known as “Tapping Therapy” and has shown to be effective in treating addiction as well as a wide range of emotional and physical health problems. This tapping technique requires the person to literally tap on meridian points in the body while repeating phrases meant to free the person from negative emotions and thought patterns. The combination of these affirmations and the light percussion on these meridian points, which are known to comprise life-energy paths in traditional Chinese medicine, is seen to release emotional blockages.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively recent development in therapy. It uses rapid eye movements to assist clients in overcoming trauma and other unhelpful emotions. The theory is that as the eyes move back and forth while mentally focusing on traumatic experiences, the memories are able to be processed. Previously seen to be “trapped” in the wrong area of the brain, these memories are then able to move into the correct part of the brain for normal processing.


Mindfulness is widely used within several therapies, particularly adaptations of CBT, but can be seen as a stand-alone form of treatment as well. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, but without the religious aspect. It is the practice of living in the moment, observing the mind with detachment, focusing on the “here-and-now” in order to manage stress, anxiety and depression. It is a fast growing movement and has been shown to be effective in a wide range of difficulties such as pain addiction, personality disorders and various forms of autism.

Person-Centered Therapy

Person-centered therapy (PCT) is a common form of brief counseling. Here, the therapists treat the clients by providing unconditional positive regard and utmost acceptance of the client without judgment, disapproval or approval. Through this, the client is able to explore their thoughts and feelings in a safe and secure environment. The counselor uses reflection, which may involve paraphrasing the client’s own statements back at them to enhance understanding and to help the client gain clarity on the difficulties they are experiencing.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on a person’s unconscious processes and uses the developing client-therapist relationship to explore the person’s inner world. Transference focused psychotherapy (TFP) is a popular form of this type of treatment. Transference is noted in the way the client relates to the therapist, which is believed to be a re-enactment of the way the client relates to important figures in their past, particularly parents or primary caregivers. It is in the analysis of these relationships that the client and therapist are able to come to the root of the client’s problems. After gaining insight into more productive ways of relating, the client can then hopefully change any harmful approaches they have towards relationships in order to move forward with more rewarding ones.

Many other therapies are also considered to be psychodynamic such as Transactional Analysis, Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT), group analysis and traditional psychoanalysis. These treatments are usually long-term, lasting for at least a year, although TFP, CAT and brief dynamic therapy have all developed shorter treatments.

Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy is another development of CBT that also incorporates aspects of other therapies. In particular, Gestalt Therapy, a type of therapy combined with CBT to create Schema Therapy, was devised for addressing entrenched psychological difficulties. It has been further developed into an evidence-based treatment for personality disorders.

Schemas are seen as the person’s habitual patterns of relating to the world and viewing themselves. This type of therapy can last up to three years and involves revisiting scenes of trauma with the accompaniment of the therapist through visualization of early childhood memories and reframing them so the adult is able to protect the vulnerable child they once were. Schema therapy also shares similarities to some psychodynamic therapies.

As you begin your therapy, take note that some techniques have more validity than others and newer types may still require further research to test their efficacy. Although therapy can be approached a number of different ways, it is widely accepted that a large part of the healing comes from the client-therapist relationship. If the relationship is a good fit, the actual modality of therapy may or may not matter as much.

Before proceeding with a therapist, remember to check his or her credentials, that he or she is registered with a relevant regulating body and that he or she practices according to ethical guidelines.

If you or someone you know is seeking therapy for addiction, please visit our directory of counseling and therapy centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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