A psychotherapist has specialized training in treating mental disorders. They use talk therapy to help people find better ways to cope with emotional issues and overcome unhealthy behaviors or thinking patterns.
Psychotherapists can be psychiatrists or psychologists. A psychiatrist offers therapy, but they are also trained medical doctors who can prescribe medications to treat mental disorders. On the other hand, a psychologist focuses solely on psychotherapy and behavioral interventions.
There’s no consensus on how to group psychotherapists by type, but it may be helpful to think about them as divided into several camps when you’re trying to decide what type you need.
Types of Psychotherapy
There are five types of psychotherapy, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT operates under three basic principles that address the way a person thinks, their patterns of behavior, and how they cope with trauma or psychological problems. For many, unhelpful thinking, behavior, and coping patterns lead to psychological distress, and CBT aims to help patients learn to change their own problematic behaviors, thoughts, and coping mechanisms.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT teaches patients how to accept that their behaviors and experiences are valid and how to change their behaviors to move forward in a positive way. It is designed to rewire the patient’s mind when it comes to coping and reacting to stressful situations or psychological distress.
- Humanistic therapy: There are three types of humanistic therapy: client-centered, gestalt, and existential therapies. Client-centered therapy revolves around the rejection of the idea that therapists are the experts of their patients' minds. It emphasizes care, interest, and concern in a way that allows people to make their own choices. Gestalt therapy encourages patients to accept that they are responsible for themselves, and it pushes the awareness of being in the moment. Existential therapy focuses heavily on self-determination and free will, as well as the search for meaning in a patient’s life. All three focus on the patient and emphasize their ability to help themselves.
- Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how people's past experiences affect their current behavior. It is designed to force patients to look inward and gain self-awareness around their behavioral patterns. In this type of therapy, patients examine past relationships and how they guide their current behaviors.
- Holistic therapy: Holistic therapy utilizes more than one type of therapy. Psychotherapists who practice holistic therapy take a well-rounded approach by blending different elements of the approaches so that they can personalize treatments to a patient's needs.
Psychotherapy can be helpful for treating many mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, phobias, and personality disorders.
Types of Degrees
There are a number of degrees that psychotherapists can earn, including:
- Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW): Getting a master’s degree in social work and passing a state licensing exam are typically required to become a licensed clinical social worker. Social workers work with all types of patients, but many specialize in one area, such as adults or children. They also help their clients find other resources in their community.
- Licensed professional counselor (LPC) or a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC): These psychotherapists hold master’s degrees in counseling or psychology, and they must pass a state licensing exam. They utilize psychotherapy and individual interventions to help patients.
- Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT): These types of psychotherapists focus on treating mental health disorders as they relate to a person’s family and relationships. LMFTs must obtain a master’s degree and two years of clinical experience. They must also pass a state licensing exam.
- Doctor of psychology (PsyD; psychologist): Psychotherapists with a doctoral degree in psychology are trained heavily in the scientific study of psychology but use their training in their practice. To be accepted into a PsyD program, students must first get a bachelor’s degree and most likely a master’s degree. The program lasts four to six years. They will also have to be licensed by the state.
- Doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD in psychology; psychologist): A PhD in psychology focuses on the scientific research of psychotherapy. Those with this degree tend to go on to research or teaching careers. The program lasts roughly five to eight years after getting a master’s or bachelor’s degree and requires state licensing with an option for certification.
- Psychiatrist (MD): Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness. To become a psychiatrist, a person must attend medical school and complete a residency program.
Although there are many types of psychotherapies available, psychotherapists often specialize in specific mental disorders, such as eating disorders or addiction. It’s also possible to find psychotherapists who treat people who have experienced similar life events, such as a psychotherapist who works only with members of the LGBTQ community.
How to Choose
Specific questions you should ask yourself that can help narrow down your search for a psychotherapist include:
- What type of credentials are important to you: If you’re looking for a psychotherapist who can prescribe medications, you will want to go with a psychiatrist. If you’re looking for help with community advocacy, then a licensed clinical social worker or licensed professional counselor may be best for you.
- What type of therapy do you need: If you require therapy based on the specific type of mental disorder that you have, it would be best to find someone who specializes in that area.
- What type of person would work best with you: You may also want to consider your psychotherapist's gender, religion, or age. For example, if you’re a young woman who has experienced trauma, talking to a woman may make you feel more at ease.
- What type of therapy do you think will work best for you: The approach to therapy is also a vital factor to consider. For example, if you’re looking to overcome a phobia, behavioral therapy may be best. If you’re trying to change unhealthy behaviors, you may want psychodynamic therapy.
Questions to ask
Before meeting your psychotherapist, you may want to ask some general questions to see if they will be a good fit, such as:
- Are you licensed?
- What is your level of training?
- What treatment approach do you use?
- How many patients have you treated with my specific issue?
- What is your specialty?
- How much does each session cost?
- Can you provide a prescription if needed?
These questions will help narrow down your search. Getting the right therapist is key to ensuring that the treatment you receive is the type that will work for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do psychotherapists cost?
The cost of psychotherapists varies depending on your geographic location. Generally, a licensed clinical social worker or a mental health counselor would cost less than a psychologist, and a psychologist would cost less than a psychiatrist.
Which form of psychotherapy has had especially good results in treating phobias and compulsions?
The best type of therapy for phobias and compulsions is behavioral therapy. In the case of phobias, which are irrational fears of or aversions to specific objects or situations, desensitization therapy will work. Desensitization therapy exposes people to their phobia until they are no longer scared.
In the case of compulsions, which are repetitive rule-bound behaviors, operant conditioning may be used to help reward a person for avoiding their compulsion. Cognitive therapy is another choice for help with compulsions as it works by addressing the thoughts of the compulsion as opposed to the action itself.
Who invented psychotherapy?
Psychoanalysis was first introduced in the 1800s by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. However, evidence suggests that it has been around for a lot longer. The ancient Greeks were the first to recognize mental illness and attempt to treat it in various ways.
Psychotherapists can specialize in specific types of patients and practice different forms of therapy. When looking for a psychotherapist, consider finding one who focuses on the type of therapy that benefits your mental health needs.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
American Psychological Association. What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
Feizi M, Kamali Z, Gholami M, Abadi BAGH, Moeini S. The effectiveness of existential psychotherapy on attitude to life and self-flourishing of educated women homemakers. J Educ Health Promot. 2019 Nov 29;8:237. doi:10.4103/jehp.jehp_473_18
Ribeiro Â, Ribeiro JP, von Doellinger O. Depression and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Braz J Psychiatry. 2018 Jan-Mar;40(1):105-109. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2016-2107
Cleveland Clinic. Holistic therapy fact sheet.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic. Social workers: Occupational outlook handbook.
American Psychological Association. Doctoral Degrees in psychology: How are they different, or not so different?(Video) How to find the BEST Therapist for you | Therapy Works
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How do I know which therapist is right for me? ›
- They actually listen to you. ...
- You feel validated. ...
- They want what's best for you. ...
- They're a strong communicator. ...
- They check in with you. ...
- They take the time to educate themselves. ...
- You view them as an ally. ...
- They earn your trust.
Stated simply, the most important thing to look for in a therapist is the quality of the relationship that you have with them, otherwise known as the "therapeutic alliance." You can judge this by how comfortable you feel with the person.What are the 4 types of therapists? ›
Red flags in therapy include violations of confidentiality, boundaries, and licensure, among others. Therapy can be ineffective when the therapist is unable to communicate or lacks the training to treat a patient's specific problem. Patients can raise concerns with their therapist directly.What can you not tell a therapist? ›
- Don't tell lies. ...
- Don't share complaints about your previous therapist. ...
- Don't say that you want to be friends. ...
- Avoid telling half truths. ...
- Don't tell them you just want a prescription. ...
- Avoid telling your therapist to fix you.
During the first session, your therapist may ask you: What are your symptoms? What brought you to therapy? What do you feel is wrong in your life?What 3 characteristics are found in successful therapists? ›
- Strong Communicator. You want your therapist to be able to speak to you about what's on their mind and do so in a way that is clear and direct. ...
- Excellent Listener. ...
- Trustworthy. ...
- Open. ...
- Sets the Agenda With You. ...
- Non-Judgmental. ...
- Flexible Approach. ...
- How often would you anticipate seeing me? For how long?
- How do you set up counseling goals? What are they like? What is success for you?
- What is typical session like? How long are the sessions?
- What kind of homework/reading do you give patients?
- How do I prepare for my first session?
Your first session will probably involve your therapist asking you a lot of questions about you, how you cope, and your symptoms (it's basically an interview). You may also chat about goals for therapy, expectations, and more.What is the difference between therapist and counseling? ›
Therapists work to help their patients address similar issues, and often provide the same advice that counselors might. However, a key difference is that therapists often seek to go deeper by helping the patient understand the how and why behind a challenge.
Is a therapist better than a psychologist? ›
Psychologists can do research, which is a very important contribution academically and clinically, to the profession. A therapist is a broader umbrella term for professionals who are trained—and often licensed—to provide a variety of treatments and rehabilitation for people.What is the difference between a therapist and a psychologist? ›
Licensed therapists must have, at minimum, a master's degree in a field related to psychotherapy. Psychologists must have a doctorate-level degree such as a PhD or PsyD.How can you tell a toxic therapist? ›
A toxic therapist is one who will discourage you from consulting other perspectives, getting a second opinion, or getting support from anyone else but him or her. This enables the narcissistic therapist to wield complete and utter power over every facet of your life as you become increasingly dependent on them.How do you know if your therapist isn't a good fit? ›
- Says something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Falls asleep in the middle of the session. ...
- Has nothing to say to you that's helpful or comforting.
- Doesn't make you feel heard or understood.
- Makes you feel judged.
- Says something offensive.
Your therapist's relationship with you exists between sessions, even if you don't communicate with each other. She thinks of your conversations, as well, continuing to reflect on key moments as the week unfolds. She may even reconsider an opinion she had or an intervention she made during a session.Why does my therapist watch my hands? ›
Hands. Your client's hands can give you clues about how they're reacting to what comes up in the session. Trembling fingers can indicate anxiety or fear. Fists that clench or clutch the edges of clothing or furniture can suggest anger.Do therapists get frustrated with clients? ›
Therapists do get frustrated with clients from time to time, but some can handle difficult clients better than others. This may be due to training or inherent personality traits.Why am I scared to tell my therapist things? ›
There are a few things that might contribute to this: you may not have developed the level of trust you need to feel safe with the therapist you are working with, you may be fearful of being judged by the therapist, or maybe you are afraid that opening the pain of the past might be too much to handle.What to talk about in therapy when you have nothing to talk about? ›
- “Small” issues. ...
- Patterns and behaviors. ...
- Present feelings. ...
- Rumination. ...
- Relationships. ...
- Past traumas. ...
- New life challenges. ...
- Avoided thoughts and conflicts.
The number of recommended sessions varies by condition and treatment type, however, the majority of psychotherapy clients report feeling better after 3 months; those with depression and anxiety experience significant improvement after short and longer time frames, 1-2 months & 3-4.
What do therapists say for the first time? ›
Sosa says that it's perfectly okay to let the therapist know what's coming up for you at the beginning or any point during the session. You can say something like: "This is my first time in therapy, and I'm feeling anxious. I just wanted to share that and unload some of what I've been carrying."What are the three C's in therapy? ›
The mnemonic of “The Three C's” (Catching, Checking, and Changing) can be particularly helpful to children in learning this process. To engage children in treatment, therapists often frame the therapy experience as “becoming a detective” to investigate their thinking.What are the three C's in counseling? ›
There Are Three C's in Counseling: Caring, Challenge, Commitment.What are the 6 conditions that are required for success in person centered therapy? ›
- Psychological contact between counsellor and client.
- The client is incongruent (anxious or vulnerable)
- The counsellor is congruent.
- The counsellor shows unconditional positive regard towards the client.
- The client receives empathy from the counsellor.
Ask a therapist of interest for a consultation session to get a sense of what it would be like to work with them. Some things to look for are: you feel understood by them, you feel you'll be able to open up and speak freely with them, and you feel a sense of confidence that they can help you.Is it OK to see the same therapist? ›
There is no law that prohibits therapists from seeing two people who know each other, or even two members of the same family. In some small communities, there may not even be a choice. For example, a high school or college may only have one mental health therapist on-site.When should you stop seeing a therapist? ›
Stopping therapy may be an option if you feel you have achieved all the goals you set and you've developed the skills to move on. You've learned how to manage your symptoms or have found a way to move through a challenge.Is it OK to see two therapists at once? ›
Ask your therapists to communicate with each other.
If you work with two therapists it's in your best interest that they communicate with each other. This coordination helps your therapists plan your treatment and diminish any confusion or harm that could occur when working with two professionals at the same time.
Turns out it's pretty easy to find resources and articles that say no, it's not recommended. The reasons given (often by therapists) include splitting, conflicting treatment plans, creating secrets (especially if they aren't aware of each other or aren't in communication).How many sessions should you try with a therapist? ›
Therapy has been found to be most productive when incorporated into a client's lifestyle for approximately 12-16 sessions, most typically delivered in once weekly sessions for 45 minutes each. For most folks that turns out to be about 3-4 months of once weekly sessions.