Theories of Psychotherapy
in the Treatment of Mental Illness


Over the past several decades, there have been enormous achievements discovered in the treatment of mental illness. 

Through a great deal of research and applied practice, numerous valid theories of psychotherapy have emerged.

Some have been more credible than others and those forms of psychotherapy with the highest degree of value and legitimacy are put into practice by therapists to treat all manner of different mental illnesses.

To those not familiar with the field of psychotherapy, questions may arise regarding there are so many different theories of psychotherapy in existence.

Basically, the human mind and psyche will vary person to person due to the different personality and life experiences. When seeking to treat a patient, therapists have to take into consideration these differences and try different approaches.

Also, different patients will react differently to individual treatment methods. Therefore, there has to be different theories available to be put into practice to address each individual issue.

The Different Theories of Psychotherapy

While far from a complete list, the following are the more prevalent forms of Psychotherapy in existence:

Psychodynamic and Psychoanalysis

Psychodynamic theories revolve around the notion that what drives a person and what influences the person will be those things within.

In other words, the subconscious mind plays a major role in how the conscious mind thinks and acts. 

In some cases, this can have a positive effect on a person but there will also be many instances where what lies below the surface is creating serious and troubling problems for the individual.

To deal with these problems, the science of psychoanalysis has been developed.

The theories surrounding psychoanalysis are rooted in the works of Sigmund Freud.

Freud believed that many of the psychological problems a person faces are rooted with issues hidden in the subconscious mind of the person.

Once these problems are uncovered, brought to the surface and addressed, the individual struggling with problems caused by subconscious thoughts and feelings might become free of the negative hold the repressed thoughts and feelings have on them..

This is not to infer the achievement of results is easy.

The process of psychoanalysis can potentially be very long and arduous, but it can lead to tremendous improvements in a person's mental state.

Behavior Therapy

The term Behavior Therapy is a rather broad one and can encompass a great many different theories and approaches to treatment.

There are two common broad perspectives in which these type of therapy exists.

The first would entail looking exclusively at the behaviors the patient is engaged in and the other would be to examine a combination of the various behaviors along with the thoughts and feelings that may be motivating actions.

There are three major categories of Behavior Therapy: 

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
  • Habit Reversal Training (HRT)

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis employs an operant conditioning module.

Operant conditioning refers to the ability to learn through the impact of consequences on behavior.

In a sense, a reaction occurs based on how one acts and this reaction can lead a person to making changes in his or her behavior. Obviously, with ABA, the goal is that the environment and consequences one deals with will contribute to behavior modification.

In essence, the new behavior patterns will be ones that are more conducive to the mental health and welfare of the person undergoing the new conditioning.

The method is far removed from the classical conditioning strategy employed in other forms of therapy. With classical conditioning, the notion at work is that learning derives from environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.

For example, if someone is fearful of speaking in front of groups, the group environment can be made more friendly and appealing.

An award can be given to the person that speaks in front of the group to make the event even more enjoyable. Over time, such an approach can lead the individual to overcome a phobia.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is an approach that entails helping patients become aware of thoughts and feelings that influence their behaviors. The patient might not be aware at all of what is influencing and a therapist can help bring forth light to such matters and alter the way a person negatively behaves. This method of treatment has been used to deal with problems ranging from depression, anxiety, OCD, and many more.

Humanistic Theories of Psychotherapy

There are also humanistic theories of psychotherapy. Humanistic variants of psychotherapy are evident in the realm of social work where the goal of the therapy is on self-growth, creativity and making the right choice in life.

Humanistic approaches emerged in the 1950s in a response to psychoanalytic and behavior therapy methods. For many patients, humanist theories could yield very positive results in those requiring more social methods of overcoming psychological issues.

Common Theories of Humanistic Psychotherapy

Common humanistic theories might include:

  •  Gestalt
  • Existential
  • Client-Centered Therapy


Gestalt refers to psychotherapy that stressed personal responsibility and achievement.

Experiences in the present moment are stressed in the shadow of the patient's social and environmental situation.

In the process, the patient seeks to modify psychological issues based on what is learned in the process.


Existential psychotherapy centers on the philosophical notion that inner conflicts results with certain givens in life such as death, meaninglessness in life, the responsibility of freedom, and existential isolation. Once the person seeks to reconcile inner conflicts with these givens, the potential to overcome conflict is possible.


Client-Centered Therapy has emerged as a very popular form of therapy and it is rooted in the notion that a non-direct path towards dealing with the patient's problems must also be combined with an unconditional positive sentiment towards the patient. The role of the therapist becomes non-confrontational and supportive. This, in turn, can contribute to a more positive experience allowing the client to grow.

Wrapping Up

There are other theories of psychotherapy that are employed and the ones listed herein would be among the most commonly practiced. Of course, these credible methods are also known for achieving positive results although actual results will vary from patient to patient.

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