There are four main theoretical approaches in psychotherapy. These differ from each other in their origins, the techniques used and the developmental aspects focused on.
Psychotherapists who specialize in the cognitive-behavioural approach believe that psychological problems are related to maladaptive thoughts and behaviours that are learned by individuals in their everyday environment. Their focus is therefore on analyzing these thoughts and behaviours and the individual's living environment, and on learning new ways of behaving to replace these undesired thoughts and emotions with more constructive ones. Behaviour therapy and emotive-rational therapy are examples of this type of approach.
The existential-humanist approach is founded on human beings' ability to control their existence and realize their full potential. The focus is on the here and now, on the client's ability to become aware of his or current problems, to understand them and to consequently to change his or her ways of being and acting. The psychologist facilitates the client's self-exploration and experimentation with new ways of being and acting. The client is seen as being on equal footing with the therapist. Rogerian psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy and self-development are examples of this type of approach.
Strongly influenced by psychoanalysis and drawing on the notion of the unconscious, this approach focuses on the link between the client's presenting problem and the experiences and repressed and unresolved conflicts in his or her past. By gaining awareness of the influence of these unconscious conflicts on his current behaviour, the client comes to better understand them and gradually break free of their influence.
According to the systemic-interactional approach, a person's problems arise and continue because of the nature of the interaction between the person and those around him or her (family, friends, co-workers, etc.). Once the problematic situation has been analyzed, the goal of the therapy is to change the relationships between the person and others. As a result, it is not unusual for the psychologist to meet with important members of the client's circle. Family therapy and brief therapy are examples of this type of approach.