Methods of Counselling

Both Counsellors and Psychotherapists work from a variety of Theoretical Approaches with their clients. These therapies range from the type of Psychoanalysis, originally practised by Sigmund Freud and later developed into other forms of analytic psychotherapy by his pupils, through Humanistic Psychotherapy (based on personal growth and self development) to the Behavioural Therapies used for dealing with specific phobias and anxieties. However there is evidence that the relationship between the counsellor and the client is more important than the approach the therapist uses.

The following is an alphabetical list of commonly used Theoretical Approaches with brief descriptions of their meanings:

Adlerian Therapy

Adlerian Therapy, originated by Alfred Adler, is also called individual psychology and focuses on creating a therapeutic relationship that is co-operative, encouraging and practical. Adlerian counsellors help clients look at their lifestyle and personal values to help them understand and question their usual patterns of behaviour and hidden goals. It is a learning process that assists the client to move towards useful involvement and contribution to society.

Behavioural Therapy

This therapy is based on the belief that behaviour is learnt in response to past experience and can be unlearnt, or reconditioned,
without analysing the past to find the reason for the behaviour. It works well for compulsive and obsessive behaviour, fears, phobias
and addictions.

Cognitive Analytical Therapy

This combines Cognitive Therapy and Psychotherapy and encourages clients to draw on their own ability to develop the skills
to change destructive patterns of behaviour. Negative ways of thinking are explored in structured and directive ways, involving diary-keeping, progress charts, etc.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

This combines Cognitive and Behavioural techniques. Clients are taught ways to change thoughts and expectations and relaxation
techniques are used. It has been effective for stress-related ailments, phobias, obsessions, eating disorders and (at the same time as drug treatment) major depression.

Cognitive Therapy

Uses the power of the mind to influence behaviour. It is based on the theory that previous experiences can damage self image and
this can affect attitude, emotions and ability to deal with certain situations. It works by helping the client to identify, question and
change poor mental images of themselves, thus altering negative responses and behaviour. It can help pessimistic or depressed people to view things from a more optimistic perspective.

Dialectical Behavioural therapy

DBT was developed from cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).The main aim of CBT is to change behaviour, which is done by applying
techniques with a focus on problem-solving, such as homework, diary cards and behavioural analysis. However, some people felt
uncomfortable with the strong focus on change, and felt that their suffering and apparent loss of control over their lives were not
understood. This caused them to become frustrated and even to drop out of treatment. Therapist sought to resolve this by the use of acceptance strategies. Acceptance strategies are added to the process of CBT which means that the therapist explores with their clients an acceptance that their behaviour (e.g. self-harming, drinking, etc.), even though damaging in the long term, may be the only way they have learned to deal with intense emotions; and which might have led to positive short term benefits.

Eclectic Counselling

An Eclectic counsellor will select from a number of different approaches appropriate to the 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.


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences. EMDR is thought to imitate the psychological state that we enter into when in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Studies show that when in REM sleep we are able to make new associations between things very rapidly – EMDR may be tapping into this high speed processing mode that we all have but often can’t access. The theory is that EMDR works directly with memory networks and enhances information processing by creating associations between the distressing memory and more adaptive information in other memory networks.

Family Therapy

This is used to treat a family system rather than individual members of the family. A form of Systemic Therapy, it requires specifically trained counsellors.

Gestalt Therapy

The name is derived from the German for “organized whole”. Developed by Fritz Perls, it focuses on the whole of the client’s experience, including feelings, thoughts and actions. The client gains self-awareness in the `here and now’ by analysing behaviour
and body language and talking about bottled up feelings. This approach often includes acting out scenarios and dream recall.

Humanistic Therapy

Coming from the “personal growth movement” this approach encourages people to think about their feelings and take responsibility for their thoughts and actions. Emphasis is on self-development and achieving highest potential. “Client-Centred” or “Non-Directive” approach is often used and the therapy can be described as “holistic” or looking at person as a whole. 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.


Carl Jung was the originator of Analytical Psychology; a disciple of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer of Psychoanalysis.


Mindfulness is a specific way of intentionally paying attention. One negative thought can lead to a chain reaction of negative thoughts.
This approach encourages people to be aware of each thought, enabling the first negative thought to be ‘caught’ so that is seen as
just a ‘thought’ and not a fact. This breaks the chain reaction of negative thoughts giving a mental ‘space’ in which the person can
re-centre themselves in the present. Mindfulness-based therapists can work with individuals and groups and will usually integrate mindfulness into another modality, in which they are already trained. Mindfulness is likely to appeal to therapists who have developed a long-term meditation practice.

Person-Centered Therapy

Devised by Carl Rogers and also called “Client-Centred” or “Rogerian” counselling, this is based on the assumption that a client seeking help in the resolution of a problem they are experiencing, can enter into a relationship with a counsellor who is sufficiently accepting and permissive to allow the client to freely express any emotions and feelings. This will enable the client to come to terms with negative feelings, which may have caused emotional problems, and develop inner resources. The objective is for the client to become able to see himself as a person, with the power and freedom to change, rather than as an object.

Primal Therapy

Primal Therapy is not generally seen as model of therapy that is used on its own. It is usually an additional way of working within the more general therapeutic approach in which therapists are trained. This is based on the theory that buried birth or infancy distress
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 is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, who believed that the unacceptable thoughts of early childhood are banished to the unconscious mind but continue to influence thoughts, emotions and behaviour. “Repressed” feelings can surface later as conflicts,
depression, etc or through dreams or creative activities. The analyst seeks to interpret and make acceptable to the client’s conscious mind, troublesome feelings and relationships from the past. “Transference” onto the analyst, of feelings about figures in the client’s life, is encouraged. This type of therapy is often used by clients suffering high levels of distress and can be a lengthy and intensive process.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy/Counselling

This approach stresses the importance of the unconscious and past experience in shaping current behaviour. The client is encouraged
to talk about childhood relationships with parents and other significant people and the therapist focuses on the client/therapist
relationship (the dynamics) and in particular on the transference. Transference is when the client projects onto the therapist feelings
experienced in previous significant relationships. The Psychodynamic approach is derived from Psychoanalysis but usually provides a quicker solution to emotional problems.


Sometimes described as “psychology of the soul”.It is the name given to a series of actions that lead to a change or development
which encourages personal growth by a bringing together of the whole person – the emotional, the mental, the physical and spiritual within a safe environment. Psychosynthesis is useful for people seeking a new, more spiritually oriented vision of themselves.


Re-Birthing is not generally seen as model of therapy that is used on its own. It is usually an additional way of working within the more general therapeutic approach in which therapists are trained. In this approach, emotional or physical traumas during birth are said to create feelings of separation or fear in later life. Breathing techniques are used to release tension whilst the client re-experiences traumatic emotions. A skilled practitioner is essential.

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

This promotes positive change rather than dwelling on past problems. Clients are encouraged to focus positively on what they do well and to set goals and work out how to achieve them. As little as 3 or 4 sessions may be beneficial.

Systemic Therapies

These are the therapies which have, as their aim, a change in the transactional pattern of members of a system. It can be used as the
generic term for family therapy and marital therapy.

Transpersonal Therapy

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


This list has been compiled by the BACP
  Information Office from a variety of
  sources and is offered as a service
  for members and the public.