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Theoretical Approaches

Adlerian Therapy

Adlerian therapy is based on the Individual Psychology theory of personality and system of counselling developed by Alfred Adler.  It focuses on creating a therapeutic relationship that is interactive, positive and encouraging. 

Counsellors help clients question and understand how their previous life events and hidden goals have contributed to their current lifestyle, behaviour and attitudes. Clients are encouraged to overcome feelings of inferiority or insecurity and develop confidence and pride, so helping them to change their behaviour and become more involved in society.

Behavioural Therapy

Behavioural therapy is based on the belief that behaviour is learnt in response to past experience and can be unlearnt, or reconditioned through association, without analysing the past to find the reason for the behaviour. Therapists give clients techniques to control their anxiety and help them to face their fears. It often works well for compulsive and obsessive behaviour, fears, phobias and addictions. 

Brief Therapy 

This uses the Cognitive Behavioural approach over a small, planned number of sessions, possibly with a single follow-up session after some time has elapsed. (See also Solution-Focused Brief Therapy).

Client Centred Counselling 

See Person Centred Therapy

Cognitive Analytical Therapy

Cognitive Analytical Therapy combines Cognitive Therapy and Psychoanalysis into an effective, time-limited therapy lasting typically 16 weeks. It is a collaborative programme, based on an empathic relationship between the client and therapist, to help the client to make sense of their situation and find ways to make changes.  

It looks at the way a person thinks, feels and acts, and the events and relationships that underlie these experiences, often from childhood or earlier in life. Negative ways of thinking are explored in structured and directive ways, involving diary keeping and progress charts.  

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

CBT combines cognitive and behavioural techniques.  It focuses on current problems, rather than past issues, and aims to change the way clients think and behave to help them deal with their problems in a more positive way. It has been effective for stress-related ailments, phobias, obsessions, eating disorders and (in combination with drug treatment) major depression.  

Cognitive Therapy

This approach uses the power of the mind to influence behaviour.   It is based on the theory that previous experiences can damage self-perception, which affects attitude, emotions and the ability to deal with certain situations.    

It works by helping clients to identify, question and change poor mental images of themselves, so altering negative responses and behaviour. It can help pessimistic or depressed people to view things from a more optimistic perspective.

DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy)

DBT was developed from CBT. Some clients are uncomfortable with CBT’s strong focus on change and feel that their suffering is not understood, which may cause them to drop out of treatment.  

DBT is based on accepting that the client’s behaviour (e.g. self-harming, drinking, etc) makes sense as it has helped them to deal with intense emotions. However, the therapist can also challenge the client to make changes in their life and to learn other ways of dealing with their distress. 

Eclectic Counselling

An eclectic counsellor will employ a range of different theories, methods and practices, according to a client's needs. This is based on the theory that there is no proof that any one theoretical approach works better than all others for a specific problem.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) 

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy developed to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences. It is particularly used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

EMDR is thought to imitate the psychological state that we enter into when in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Studies show that we are able to make new associations between things very rapidly while in REM sleep. EMDR aims to tap into this high speed processing mode that we all have but usually can't access, creating associations between distressing memories and more adaptive information in other memory networks.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

A collaborative, structured, usually short-term therapy approach to working with couples, families and individuals that fosters the creation of secure relationship bonds.

EFT is a change process that facilitates movement from distress to recovery by transforming negative patterns of interaction into safe emotional connection between intimate partners and family members.

Based on the science of emotions and attachment theory as well as humanistic and systemic theories, EFT has a high success rate in achieving secure, resilient relationships in couples and within families, and in helping people to flexibly manage their emotional experience. 

Existential Therapy

Existential psychotherapy is an approach that explores the inner conflict a client may experience when confronted with the ultimate concerns in life - the inevitability of death, freedom and its responsibilities, isolation and meaninglessness. 

Existentialists believe that life has no essential (given) meaning: any meaning has to be found or created. Counsellors help clients make their own sense of the world so that they can live life and deal with life problems in their own way. 

Family Therapy

This is a form of systemic therapy, used to treat a family system rather than individual members of the family.  It enables family members to express and explore difficult thoughts and emotions safely, to understand each other’s experiences and views, appreciate each other’s needs, build on strengths and make useful changes in their relationships and their lives.  

Gestalt Therapy

The name Gestalt is derived from the German for ‘whole’ or ‘pattern’.  Developed by Fritz Perls, it looks at the individual as a whole, and within their surroundings, rather than breaking things into parts.  Practitioners help clients to focus on the here and now and their immediate thoughts, feelings and behaviour to better understand how they relate to others and to situations. This can help them find a new, positive perspective on their problems and bring about changes in their lives. 

Gestalt therapy often includes acting out scenarios and dream recall, and is effective in treating issues such as anxiety, stress, addiction, tension and depression.

Humanistic Therapy

This takes techniques from the ‘personal growth movement’ to encourage clients to think about their feelings and take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.  The emphasis is on self-development and achieving one’s highest potential rather than on dysfunctional behaviour. It is a holistic therapy, looking at the person as a whole, and often uses ‘client-centred’ or ‘non-directive’ approaches. The client's creative instincts may be used to explore and resolve personal issues.

Integrative Therapy

This is when several distinct models of counselling and psychotherapy are used together in a converging way rather than as separate approaches.

Jungian Therapy

Also called Analytical Psychology, this is a psychoanalytic approach developed by Carl Jung.  It aims to bring the conscious and unconscious elements of the psyche into balance to help clients become more balanced and whole. It looks at both the personal unconscious and the collective human unconscious, and can involve dream analysis, word associations and creative activities.  


Mindfulness is a specific way of intentionally focusing on your thoughts, feelings and the world around you, moment by moment.

It encourages clients to be aware of each thought, so they can ‘catch’ and manage a negative thought before they become overwhelmed by a stream of negative thoughts and feelings. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety and help clients to positively change the way they see themselves and their lives. 

Mindfulness-based therapists can work with individuals and groups and will usually integrate mindfulness with another therapeutic approach. 

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) 

NLP combines cognitive behavioural and humanistic therapies with hypnotherapy. It works on the theory that life experiences, from birth onwards, programme the way a person sees the world. The practitioner helps the client to discover how they have learnt to think or feel so that they can take control of their actions.

NLP also looks at areas of success so that the client can use these to develop further successful skills and behaviours. 

Person-Centred Therapy

Devised by Carl Rogers, this is also known as Rogerian or client-centred counselling.  It is based on the view that everyone has the capacity and desire for personal growth and change, given the right conditions.  Rather than being seen as the expert and directing the therapy, the counsellor offers unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence to help the client develop and grow in their own way. 

Primal Therapy

Primal Therapy is based on the theory that supressed birth or infancy traumas can resurface as neuroses. The therapy takes the client back to the ‘primal scene’ where trauma can be re-experienced as an emotional cleansing.

This model of therapy is generally not used on its own but in addition to a therapist’s main therapeutic approach. 


This is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, who believed that psychological problems are rooted in the unconscious mind. Experiences from a client’s past can influence thoughts, emotions and behaviour in later life. The analyst encourages the client to talk about their experiences and uses techniques such as free association or dream analysis to identify repressed feelings or conflicts that are affecting them now.  Bringing these to the front of the client’s mind allows any negative feelings to be dealt with. 

This can be a lengthy and intensive process and is often used by clients suffering high levels of distress. 

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy/Counselling

The psychodynamic approach is derived from psychoanalysis, but focuses on immediate problems to try to provide a quicker solution. 

This approach stresses the importance of the unconscious and past experience in shaping current behaviour.  The therapist aims to build an accepting and trusting relationship with the client, encouraging them to talk about childhood relationships with parents and other significant people. It uses similar techniques to psychotherapy, including free association, interpretation and especially transference, where the client projects feelings experienced in previous significant relationships onto the therapist. 


Sometimes described as "psychology of the soul", psychosynthesis aims to integrate or "synthesise" the level of consciousness at which thoughts and emotions are experienced, with a higher, spiritual level of consciousness. Painting, movement and other techniques can be used to recognise and value different facets of the personality. Psychosynthesis is useful for people seeking a new, more spiritually oriented vision of themselves to enable change and growth.

REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) 

REBT is a form of cognitive behaviour therapy based on the theory that emotional and behavioural problems are the result of our irrational thoughts and beliefs. Therapists take an active role in helping clients to identify these thoughts and replace them with more rational and realistic assumptions and ideas.


In this approach, emotional or physical traumas during birth are thought to create feelings of separation or fear in later life.  Conscious breathing techniques are used to release tension whilst the client re-experiences traumatic emotions.  

Re-birthing is generally not used on its own but in addition to therapist’s main therapeutic approach. It requires a skilled practitioner. 

Relationship Therapy 

Relationship counselling encourages the parties in a relationship to recognise repeating patterns of distress and to understand and manage troublesome differences that they are experiencing. The relationship may be between members of a family (see also Family Therapy), a couple or work colleagues. 

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

This therapy promotes positive change rather than dwelling on past problems. Clients are encouraged to focus positively on what they do well, set goals and work out how to achieve them.  As few as three or four sessions may be beneficial. 

Systemic Therapies

These are therapies which aim to change the transactional pattern of members of a system.  Systemic therapy can be used as a generic term for family therapy and marital therapy. 

Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis is a comprehensive approach which incorporates aspects of humanistic, cognitive-behavioural and psychodynamic therapy. It categorises the human personality into three ego states – Parent, Adult and Child – which help clients understand how they interact with others. 

TA therapists also use script theory to identify how a client’s beliefs and the way they interpret the world around them can become recurrent and problematic patterns of behaviour, and work with the client to help them to change.

Aspects of TA may be used by therapists working with other theoretical models.

Transpersonal Therapy

This describes any form of counselling or therapy which places emphasis on spirituality, human potential or heightened consciousness.  It includes psychosynthesis.