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Psychological therapies unpacked

There is more to therapy than just sitting on a couch. Clinical Psychologist Dr Joycelyn Ling gives a breakdown below on all the different psychological approaches and treatments available.

People learning about different psychological therapies

Psychological therapy, often called ‘talking therapy' or psychotherapy, refers to various approaches or treatment methods to address emotional and behavioural concerns, and to help develop ways to improve wellbeing, functioning and quality of life.

Being able to talk to a trained health professional about your mental health can help with understanding your experiences with mental health difficulties, develop skills and strategies to help cope with and manage the challenges, and improve wellbeing.

Change takes time and practice. Therapy helps to improve insight into difficulties and develop new skills to manage them. Sometimes there is good progress, at times there may be setbacks, but it is important to feel encouraged with progress and work on the challenges together with the therapist.

While psychological therapy is very effective in treating mental health conditions, sometimes combining with medication (pharmacotherapy) or other support is useful. Medications such as anti-depressants are sometimes prescribed by a medical professional. Rehabilitation, employment support, and occupational therapy may also be part of treatment.

Common types of Therapeutic Approaches

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This approach focuses on modifying unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours resulting in a reduction of symptoms. The therapist helps the person to identify unhelpful thought patterns or behaviours and explore ways to modify these patterns to be more accurate or helpful, and develop positive coping skills. CBT may involve practice between therapy sessions to assist with applying the skills to everyday situations. CBT works on the current issues in one’s life, rather than the in the past. CBT has been shown through research to be particularly effective for conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias, OCD, and substance use.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

This approach emphasises the goal of changing one’s relationship with distressing thoughts, feelings, sensations or experience, without necessarily changing situations that are out of one’s control. The approach focuses on developing adaptive coping skills and utilising personal values to guide action, allowing one to lead a fulfilling life despite difficulties. ACT has been shown to be effective in treating a range of mental health concerns including anxiety, depression, adjustment disorder, and stress.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

This approach is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that focuses on problem-solving, change, and acceptance. The techniques of DBT include mindfulness, improving distress tolerance and regulation of emotions, and developing strategies for improving and managing relationships. DBT can involve a group program, or can be in one-on-one therapy, and may also include between-sessions telephone or other coaching. DBT has been shown to effective in helping people experiencing self-harm, suicidality, substance use, eating, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on the relationships people have with significant others in their life and how to strengthen communication and develop more effective interpersonal interactions. ITP is used to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Narrative Therapy

This approach views problems as separate from the the person, centering the person as the expert in their lives and the “narrator” of their story. Narrative therapy aims to empower the person and emphasises that the person has the skills and expertise to make changes in their lives. The therapist is the collaborator in the conversations, helping to identify and recognise alternate or preferred narratives.

Trauma-focused cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT)

This approach is a treatment model designed to help children and adolescents experiencing trauma-related symptoms and conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, as well provide support for families. TF-CBT focuses on improving skills to manage the cognitive and emotional impact of trauma in more effective ways.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

This approach is the process of changing the pattern of avoidance of feared objects or situations. The technique teaches an individual to experience the feared object or situation without responding in a way that compounds the fear. The ‘exposure’ to the feared object or situation can be in real life, imagined or recalled, virtual reality, or bringing on feared physical sensations (such as racing heart rate), and can be implemented at different paces. The therapist will work with the person to determine the most effective process.

Finding the best psychological therapy solution for you.

Therapy is an individual journey - different treatments can be more or less effective for two people with the same condition but different individual circumstances and personality style. It's all about getting the right personalised treatment combination for your individual needs. Sometimes this might mean that you are completing one or more treatments at a given time, or you complete different treatments as your symptoms change over time. How you respond to treatment also matters - sometimes a treatment approach, although generally effective, may not feel like the right treatment for you, or it may not be delivering the results you hope for. If this is the case, it's common to transition to a different treatment approach - your health professional will guide you through this process.

It's not uncommon to see two people with the same condition, for instance depression, undergoing two different treatments, but still getting equally good results. A common scenario would be one person under medical management (such as an antidepressant) and another person responding well to a therapy such as CBT. Many factors can influence why one treatment works better for you than another, including your biology, history, personal habits and the way that you like to get things done.

At Aurora Cloud Clinic, we offer both medical management and talk therapies, and we can match you with the provider type (psychologist or psychiatrist) and therapy that will work best for you. Get in touch with us to book your first consultation.

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