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Understanding the 3 Major Types of Therapy: CBT, ACT, DBT

What do you think of when you hear the word “psychotherapy”? Chances are it might not be good. After all, any word which contains within it the word “psycho” immediately brings to mind a number of negative connotations. This is thanks, at least, in part, to various films and tv shows that depict therapists as villains or figures of malice. But what exactly is psychotherapy? To begin with, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Psychotherapy, in essence, is talk therapy. Reframed, its revealed to be far less intimidating than it might seem. During a session of psychotherapy, an individual meets with a therapist within a safe and confidential environment to better understand their feelings and behaviors and gain skills with which to cope. These conversations are frequently lead by the therapist and cover a wide range of subjects pertaining to the patient’s past and present. Sessions will also explore the patient’s thoughts, feelings, experiences, and/or relationships in an effort to provide greater insight and clarity into their lives.

Psychotherapy has been shown in numerous studies to help with a wide array of mental illnesses. The treatment is both popular and versatile, able to be used for individuals as well as groups, including families.

There are three main types of psychotherapy: CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Here, we’ll explore each of these forms of psychotherapy and what exactly they entail, as well as how they might benefit individuals in need. Knowing the difference between these treatments can help you and your therapist decide which might be best for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

In previous posts we’ve discussed a treatment known as CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is one of the most popular forms of psychotherapy. This is because in CBT focuses primarily on exploring the relationships between and individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Doing this can help the patient identify unhealthy patterns of thought and what ways these patterns may be causing them to engage in self-destructive behaviors.

In addressing these patterns, therapists and their patients can work together to develop more constructive ways of thinking. Doing this can enable the individual to develop healthier behaviors and beliefs. After all, the defining principles of CBT are identifying negative, false beliefs and testing then restructuring them. Because of this it has been shown to be an effective treatment method for a number of disorders including: depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Less well-known but no less effective, ACT is a psychological intervention which focuses on using acceptance and mindfulness strategies alongside commitment and behavior change strategies to ultimately increase an individual’s psychological flexibility. What this accomplishes is that it grounds patients in the present moment and teaches them to be fully conscious. It also teaches them to adapt their behavior according to their chosen values. For example, if in a given situation one’s behavior is contradicting their values the best course of action would be to cease or change that behavior. Conversely, if a behavior is in accordance with one’s values, like volunteering in an offer to be more helpful, then the best course of action would be to continue that behavior.

Through ACT patients can begin to realize how their actions may be in conflict with their own desires and goals. Therapists use various exercises and examples to demonstrate how an individual might establish healthier relationships between their thoughts, feelings, memories, and physical experiences. In doing this, patients develop a clearer sense of their own personal values and what level of commitment is required on their behalf in order for their behavior to truly change.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

In the beginning, DBT was developed primarily for individuals who frequently contemplated suicide and also possessed a borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, over the years, DBT has evolved to treat people with a variety of mental illnesses, but most people treated with DBT are usually diagnosed with BPD as a primary illness. There are a lot of similarities between DBT and the more popular CBT with one notable difference: Rather than focusing on struggling with uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, individuals are encouraged to accept them. DBT emphasizes validation, allowing patients to come to terms with their problematic thoughts, emotions, and actions so that change no longer appears to be impossible. This allows the therapist to be able to create a gradual plan for recovery.

In a typical DBT session, the therapist’s role is to help their patient find a balance between acceptance and change. Another essential part of DBT, like CBT, is learning new methods of addressing their unhealthy thoughts and behaviors using mindfulness and developing new and effective means of coping. Improved coping strategies is a significant aspect of successful DBT treatment and can help individuals avoid dangerous behaviors and thoughts in the long-term on their road to recovery.

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