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November 11th, 2021

A Guide To Types of Online Therapy

By Dr Rumina Taylor (Chief Clinical Officer)

  • Therapy

Let’s talk about the main types of therapy that people in the UK can benefit from. If you’re wondering about the differences between popular therapy formats such as CBT, EMDR, counselling and more, you’re in the right place. We’re going to look at the different types of therapy available to you and how they differ in their approach and effectiveness.

Sadly, therapy is a field that attracts lots of misconceptions - not helped in the least by the gulf between evidence-based, clinically-approved psychotherapy options and other therapeutic areas that don’t need the same level of medical experience.

With lots of misinformation online, knowing which types of therapy are actually beneficial can be challenging. Don’t worry - we’re going to explain each type of therapy we offer here at HelloSelf so you can understand what each type is, what they offer and who they might help.

Is online therapy as effective as in-person?

Firstly, let’s cover an important topic. Therapy delivered in person is different to online therapy, though both can be incredibly effective. There were discussions in the early days of the internet around the efficacy of online techniques, with worries around whether a therapist would suffer from being unable to observe the patient’s body language and overall demeanour.

Studies show that online therapy for depression was just as effective as in-person practice. Meanwhile, a meta-review of 17 studies in The Lancet concluded that online CBT was at least as effective as in-person therapy and often more available to patients who may lack access to physical therapy.

So with concerns about whether or not online therapy works out of the way, the only real comparison you need to make is a personal choice. Online therapy allows you to book sessions more flexibly, access expert therapists from anywhere in the world and makes attending sessions easier by removing a need to commute.

What really matters, regardless of the format you choose, is what type of therapy you engage with. This, usually, is something your therapist should guide you towards through a tailored treatment plan - rather than simply prescribing you a set type of therapy to tick a box. Unfortunately, many failed therapy sessions are caused by people being prescribed the wrong type of therapy and then feeling like all other types of therapy won’t work for them.

What about online CBT?

CBT is a popular type of therapy but is only one approach - so it may not be effective for some people. However, because it focuses on practical strategies and often involves ‘homework’ such as worksheets, some people assume that digital sessions may be less effective.

However, as with the general overall findings around therapy’s effectiveness in an online setting, online CBT has been shown to be just as effective as in-person CBT for treating anxiety and depression. However, it may not be useful for treating other conditions and as such, is not a replacement for real assessment and treatment by a skilled therapist.

If your consultation with your therapist leads to them selecting online CBT as a treatment route for you, then it is worth considering. Many of the advantages of digital technology make CBT more straightforward too - such as completing ‘homework’ online without the need for paper print-outs etc.

It is crucial here to remind our readers that online CBT is not, and never should be, the only type of therapy available to you…

Types of Therapy

There are many different types of therapy available, but which works best for you will depend entirely on your own life, experiences and way of thinking. Common types of therapy include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) etc. In the UK, the most prevalent are:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): a practical therapy system based on understanding the relationship between thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physical sensations.
  • Cognitive analytical therapy (CAT): assessing how a person thinks, feels and acts and the context of past events and relationships that may affect this.
  • Psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy: analysing the unconscious thoughts you may have developed during childhood and how they are impacting your current life and behaviours.
  • Humanistic therapies: therapy with a focus on self-development and growth looking mainly towards self-exploration.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): a relationship-focused therapy that helps people with relationship difficulties or poor interpersonal skills which may be contributing to negative wellbeing or depression.
  • Family and couple (systemic) therapy: based on how your ‘family’ (which doesn’t have to be genetic) can impact wellbeing - generally involves clients as groups such as couples, families, carers, teams and businesses.

With many options available, it’s almost always better to speak to a therapist before determining which therapy might work for you. A professional will guide you towards a route that suits you, that’s matched to your needs, whether a single type of therapy such as CBT or an integrative therapy approach that brings multiple techniques into your sessions.

Why are there so many types of therapy?

According to Dr Duncan Precious, the types of therapy available are diverse because of basic human nature: “There are different types of therapy because of different schools of thought, areas of research, academic institutions with different values, different cultures etc. Also, different therapies have proven to be more or less effective for different types of mental health conditions, therefore, attracted more or less research attention.

There are different types of therapy because therapists have had different training and have different styles, values, beliefs, backgrounds and ways of working.”

Just as you are unique, so too are your therapists. All of these differences have led to a multitude of therapy techniques that vary in their effectiveness for different people.

“There is no ‘one size fits all approach’ - as confirmed by Dr Nicky Hartigan: “some strategies and approaches work for some people, but we have not yet (and probably never will) found an approach that helps everyone.

“Therapy approaches are continuously developed, evaluated, refined/changed and re-evaluated in different groups of people for different difficulties.”

What type of therapy is best for you?

With many options available to you, both online and in-person, how can you choose the right type of therapy? According to Dr Precious, the answer is twofold. For those who have a diagnosed condition, you can consult NICE guidelines to see which types of therapy are more effective for that condition.

However, as Dr Precious explains, ‘choosing’ therapy is usually not the right approach. Instead, you should look for a therapist you feel you can trust and then allow them to introduce the right therapy choices collaboratively with you.

He adds: “It is also always worth doing a bit of reading on different therapeutic approaches (for example, CBT, CFT, DBT, Psychodynamic, systemic, EMDR and ACT) to get an idea of what is involved and whether you think this might fit for you.

“But, it is difficult for you to have an idea about which type of therapy will work best for you at the start. So, I would advise that when starting therapy, you are deciding terms of your fit with the therapist and their personality, how comfortable you feel with them, and the rapport/trust you envisage could be established as opposed to the type of therapy on offer.”

Finding an online therapist

Online therapy is very effective - and as Dr Nick Hartigan reminds us, it’s particularly useful for treating anxiety and PTSD. Having your sessions take place online removes much of the anxiety associated with attending in-person appointments and gives you more control over your wellbeing journey and interactions with your therapist.

However, as we mentioned earlier in this article, there are many options when it comes to choosing an online therapist. Not only are there lots of independent professionals, there are also multitudes of different directories, healthcare organisations and private sector businesses offering therapy services and bidding on advertisements to gain your attention.

At HelloSelf, we’re doing things differently. Our platform is all about guiding your wellbeing journey and helping you to get the right type of therapy built directly around your strengths, your lifestyle and your individual needs.

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