When heading into therapy, it can be overwhelming to read about all the different styles of therapy that you might encounter with your practitioner. Lots of articles about therapeutic styles (or modalities as they’re also known) are often written for the practitioners/psychologists/counsellors, so they’re not that easy for someone undertaking said therapy (without a psychology or counselling degree) to understand. Plus with all those acronyms – CBD, DBT, ACT, CFT – it’s easy to get swamped.
So here, we guide you through a number of popular therapy styles used by Indigo therapists – and therapists around the world. All of the therapeutic approaches used by our practitioners are empirically based, which means that studies have shown them to be effective when used with real people. You are usually not expected to have a “therapy-style preference” in mind. Practitioners will most likely learn about what it is you’re hoping to get out of therapy, and then use a style or range of styles that will hopefully work best for you. You’re also not likely to get “one style or the other” when it comes to therapy, but rather a mindful blend of therapeutic styles – styles that your practitioner understands well, that are appropriate for your personality and current challenges, and that your practitioner has had positive experiences with.
Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)
One of our favourites here at Indigo. ACT (pronounced as the word act) is a style of therapy that encourages people to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings, and non-judgementally acknowledge and make space for these thoughts and feelings – rather than fighting them, judging them or feeling guilty for them. It incorporates facets of mindfulness and the importance of presence and grounding in the present moment. It also involves looking deeper into personal values and priorities that ask what sort of person you want to be, what is meaningful to you, and what you want to stand for in your life.
Learn more about Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) here.
Art Therapy uses creative techniques, such as drawing, painting, collage or colouring to allow people to express themselves and examine deeper, psychological and emotional threads that are coming through in the art. It’s great for people who feel restricted by the expression of language. Alongside your therapist, you are facilitated to explore nonverbal messages, symbols and metaphors expressed through your art, in order to develop a greater understanding of your feelings and behaviour.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This style of therapy involves the exploration of unhelpful or distressing thoughts, feelings and emotions through the lens of cognitive distortions. It’s generally considered to be a short-term therapy (of around 8 to 12 sessions) and helps arm you with rational tools and techniques to change the way you think, feel and behave in certain situations.
Compassion Focused Therapy
This is a helpful style of therapy for people who struggle with feelings of shame and self-criticism that become overwhelming. It allows you to cultivate skills in compassion and self-compassion, which helps you regulate your emotions and lead to greater feelings of comfort, safety and self-acceptance. It basically helps you be nicer to yourself.
Learn more about Compassion Focused Therapy here.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
This therapy style involves working with opposites, such as “acceptance” and “change” to help you move away from a chaotic and distressful state of being, and find balance to heal, grow and thrive. It’s popular to treat disordered eating, as well as borderline personality disorder – (in fact, the therapist who created DBT had borderline personality disorder). It incorporates CBT and Mindfulness, as well Distress Tolerance techniques, to help you cope during a crisis, as well as strategies to assist in regulating your emotions in healthier ways, and learn how to communicate and interact assertively with others.
Learn more about Dialectical Behavioural Therapy here.
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is a unique, non-traditional style of therapy that helps reduce negative or distressing feelings linked to traumatic events. Unlike most of these other talk-based therapies, EMDR involves a physical component of shifting your attention and awareness in accordance with a external stimulus, such as a finger moving right to left, or a sound in headphones that emits into the right and left ear simultaneously. This bilateral shift of awareness is said to assist in the reprocessing of the traumatic memories, and reducing its severity. To see it in action with our Indigo Practitioner, Anneke, click here.
Learn more about EMDR here.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
This style emerged out of couples-therapy work and is rooted in attachment theory and acknowledging emotional experiences as central in the understanding and experience of the self. It hopes to elicit support and change when you become aware of, regulate, reflect on and transform emotions taking place in and outside the therapy room. It’s about getting to know your emotions, how they impact you, and how you can understand them more.
Learn more about Emotionally Focused Therapy here.
Gestalt Therapy rejects the thinking that human beings are broken up into different parts (like mind / body / soul) but rather, that we function as an integrated and complete whole. The word “Gestalt” (a German word) means a “whole, configuration, integration, pattern or form” (Patterson, 1986). It explores how your relationships with other people, your relationships with the external world and the environment, and your relationship with your body & mind all work together in shaping your unique lived experience. It focuses not so much on changing and modifying of the self, but rather on integrating disparate areas and facilitating a sense of wholeness and deeper awareness.
Learn more about Gestalt Therapy here.
Internal Family Systems
This style of therapy explores the range of sub-personalities or “families” within our own self. Some of these sub-personalities are made up of distressing or painful emotions, including anger and shame, and other sub-personalities strive to control and protect you from the pain of the wounded parts. The challenge lies in the fact that these sub-personalities are often in conflict with one another and pull you away from the confident, secure and compassionate whole person you are at your core. This therapy focused on repairing those internal dynamics and restoring inner balance and harmony.
Learn more about Internal Family Systems here.
We’re all about mindfulness here at Indigo. This less of a therapy style and more of a philosophy, and you’ll find it incorporated into many other therapeutic styles. It involves practices such as mindful meditation and breathing exercises to help people ground themselves in the present moment and develop a more objective and non-reactive relationship with thoughts and feelings that arise in the body and mind. It gives you adaptive strategies to help calm, ground and centre yourself and develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your inner world.
Learn more about Mindfulness Therapy here.
This style of therapy focuses on helping you think about change, with an honest discussion about the consequences of not changing as well. It helps you move from where you are to where you want to be with practical and inquisitive questions that get you thinking, such as “How do you think your life would be different if you were not ____ (drinking, smoking, skipping your medication, getting stressed out, etc.)?” and “What would it take for you to go from X to Y?” Motivational Interviewing explores benefits and costs of staying the same as well as benefits and costs of making a change and weighing up what will be more powerful in the long run.
Learn more about Motivational Interviewing here.
A style of therapy that emerged in the 1980s, and involves developing a greater understanding of the real, imagined or possible stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and deconstructing and reconstructing them into stories that better serve us. Often our personal narratives can keep us shackled to unhealthy or unhelpful behaviours or attitudes towards ourselves and others. Narrative Therapy works in shifting these stories from problematic and limiting to more adaptive and empowering ones.
Learn more about Narrative Therapy here.
Person/Client Centred Therapy
This style or therapeutic approach underpins many of the other styles explored here, and is all about acknowledging that people are capable and autonomous “with the ability to resolve difficulties, realise potential and change their lives in positive ways” (Seligman, 2006). It’s less about seeing people as a “diagnosis” or a “problem to be fixed” but rather as a whole complex universe with the potential to grow, heal and move forward. It’s underpinned by empathy (“I see you and I understand you”), unconditional positive regard (“You can be wholly and fully who you are and I will accept, respect and care about you”) and non-directiveness (“I will listen and explore with you but will not strive to fix you.”)
Pretty much all our Indigo practitioners work with person-centred therapeutic techniques when appropriate. You can learn more about Person Centred Therapy here.
Sometimes also known as psychoanalytic therapy, this style is probably the closest one you might associate with leather sofas and Freudian-slips. Here, you’re encouraged to speak freely about anything that comes to mind, including issues, fears, desires, dreams and fantasies. The aim is to explore these areas in order to develop a deeper understanding of yourself, in turn, increasing self-esteem, and improving your capacity to develop and maintain better relationships. It is useful in uncovering the origins of unhelpful or destructive thought patterns and behaviours and gives you strategies to analyse and resolve current issues.
Learn more about Psychodynamic Therapy here.
Schema Therapy is designed to investigate deep patterns or recurring themes of self-defeating thoughts, feelings and behaviours that typically develop as a result of toxic or impactful childhood experiences. Examples of damaging schemas include Abandonment/Instability, Mistrust/Abuse, Emotional Deprivation and Defectiveness/Shame, and some schema beliefs are statements such as, “I’m not good enough”, “People will leave me”, “I’m a failure”, and “Something bad will happen”. Schema Therapy helps people break these stubborn patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving and replace them with healthier alternatives.
Learn more about Schema Therapy here.
Solution Focused Therapy
Unlike other styles of therapy that take time to explore problems and analyse past events and experiences, Solution Focused Therapy focuses on finding solutions in the present moment and developing strategies to be able to find quicker resolutions to one’s own problems in the future. It takes the approach that you know, deep down, what you need to do to make changes, improve and create the life you want, and with the right coaching and questions, you can set reasonable goals and find the best solutions.
Learn more about Solution Focused Therapy here.
Somatic Therapy is a body-centred therapeutic approach that focuses on the connection of mind and body, using both psychotherapeutic and physical therapies for holistic healing. With this therapy, you might encounter mind-body exercises and certain physical techniques to help get out of your head and release tension and blockages that may be negatively affecting your emotional and physical wellbeing. Some of the physical techniques that may be incorporated into Somatic Therapy include dance, yoga, exercise or other types of movement, vocal exercises and massage.
Learn more about Somatic Therapy here.
To check out which Indigo practitioner does what in terms of therapy styles, jump over to our Therapy page and “Filter to find your perfect match”, then click the button ‘THERAPY STYLE” and select the modalities that interest you.