What Are the Different Types of Talk Therapy?

Medically reviewed by: Erika McElroy, Ph.D.
Thursday, October 13 2022

If you're curious about therapy, or just starting therapy, you might feel anxious about opening up to a stranger. Plus, you may have heard about different types of therapies and have seen acronyms like CBT, IPT, MBCT, and more. Sounds like a lot right? 

The truth is, these acronyms are used quite often. Here, we’ll break down these acronyms so you can better understand the different types of talk therapy. If you’re starting therapy, your therapist can also explain to you the differences and give you more information on the type of therapy that is being used in your sessions.  

In this resource we will cover:

  1. CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  2. DBT: Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  3. EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  4. Exposure Therapy
  5. IPT: Interpersonal Therapy
  6. MBCT: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

But first, what is talk therapy?

Talk therapy is treatment that aims to help you identify and change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are interfering with your quality of life. Talk therapy is usually done with a licensed, trained mental health professional in a one-on-one setting. It can also be done in a group setting, with couples, or with families. You might hear “talk therapy” referred to as “psychotherapy.” They’re both the same thing. 

In certain situations, talk therapy is combined with medications as part of a person’s treatment plan. Learn more about the differences between psychiatry and psychotherapy

People will respond differently to different types of talk therapy. As a therapist explores your interests and concerns, they will work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

What is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)?

CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. The main goal of this talk therapy is to help people identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Therapists will then work with you to shift those thoughts and behaviors so they align with your goals and overall well-being.

For example, a therapist might help you replace negative thoughts like  “I can’t do anything right in my life” to positive thoughts like “I can do this with the experience that I have.”

Many different people can benefit from CBT, including those living with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.

What is DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)?

You might hear of dialectical behavior therapy, also known as DBT. This kind of talk therapy is heavily based on cognitive behavioral therapy with one difference. In DBT, a therapist helps you validate or accept uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Your therapist will help you find balance between acceptance and change and help you learn new coping skills and mindfulness techniques. 

What is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)?

EMDR therapy is also known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It's a type of talk therapy specifically for patients living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People living with PTSD have memories of their trauma. EMDR is a way to reshape those memories into something more positive and less haunting. 

In particular, it's a good way to help people experiencing:

  • Flashbacks
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Bad reactions to ordinary situations

During EMDR people will work on reprocessing the memories of their bad experiences. This involves the use of eye movements and left-right sound stimulation to help the brain reduce the intensity of the memory. Research has shown the eye movement component of EMDR does not actually contribute to the effectiveness of this approach. It appears the underlying mechanism is the same for any other exposure therapy related to trauma.

What is Exposure therapy?

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s most often used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorderpost-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias. When people are afraid of something, they tend to avoid the object, activity, or situation that they’re afraid of. Exposure therapy helps people confront their fears. The therapist creates a safe and controlled environment so you can safely be exposed to the things you fear and avoid. Repeated exposure helps reduce fear and decrease avoidance.

What is IPT (Interpersonal Therapy)?

IPT, or interpersonal therapy, is most often used to treat depression but can be used for other mental health conditions. It's a way for you to examine your relationships in life and uncover any issues that might be negatively impacting your mental health. You will talk about how your partners, friends, or family interact with you and any problems that those relationships can cause. Then, you learn strategies for understanding and positively interacting with others. 

What is MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy)?

In MBCT, or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, you'll get a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practices. Rather than typical talk therapy where you discuss issues with your therapist the whole session, MBCT dedicates part of the session to techniques that can help you focus and calm your mind and body, including:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Stretching
  • Meditation

During a session, you'll work to become more aware of your feelings and thoughts as just passing events rather than representations of yourself. Because of this, it's often used to treat people living with addiction or depression, especially those who are having recurring episodes.

How long does therapy last and what can I expect?

Each person’s situation is different. So how long you’re in therapy depends on your situation and the goals that you and your therapist have identified. Here are some questions you can ask as you prepare for your first session. 

As part of any kind of talk therapy, your therapist will often assign “homework” in between sessions. These assignments are intended to help you put into practice in your daily life what you learned during therapy sessions.

Your therapist will work with you to tailor your therapy to specifically meet your needs and reach your goals. Whether you're preparing for your first online therapy session or meeting with your therapist in person, think about your therapy journey as if it were a road trip. There’ll be twists and turns along the way and that’s to be expected. The real work will happen between sessions as you work on your assignments. Here are a few things you can expect as you embark on your therapy journey to feeling better.

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