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Talking therapies for mental health

Mental health conditions can be treated in lots of different ways depending on the condition itself and how severe it is. Talking therapies may have an important role to play in helping you feel better.

Some conditions are treated with medicines, some with a combination of medicines and therapy, and some with the therapy on its own. A therapy might be the best option for you if you have a condition that’s mild, for example. Medicines might be a more effective option if your symptoms are moderate or severe. Your doctor will help you decide what’s right for you.

Bupa's mental health experts have created this information to explain more about the different types of talking therapies for mental health.

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  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

    What is it?

    CBT is a type of talking therapy. It’s a combination of cognitive therapy which helps with your thinking processes, and behavioural therapy which focuses on your behaviour in response to those thoughts.

    Common CBT techniques include:

    • challenging negative beliefs and replacing them with alternative ones 
    • problem solving 
    • developing coping skills 

    Types of condition CBT is used for

    CBT can be used to treat a range of conditions; it may be used on its own or it may form part of your treatment. This is because some conditions are treated with medicines, some with a combination of medicines and therapy, and some with therapy on its own. The treatment you’re offered very much depends on your condition and how severe it is. Conditions CBT can be helpful for include:

    There are some conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder which are treated with medicines. CBT can be used alongside medicines as part of your treatment.

    Does it work?

    CBT is proven to help people with a variety of conditions. For example, CBT can reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders and mild-to-moderate depression. It may also help to reduce your risk of getting these conditions again.

  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

    What is it? 

    EMDR is recommended for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EMDR suggests that if you have experienced something deeply distressing, your brain might be overwhelmed by the memory and be unable to process it like a normal memory.

    EMDR involves talking with your therapist while using specific eye movements, sounds or finger taps to stimulate different parts of the brain. This is designed to help process the distressing or traumatic memories. 

    Types of condition EMDR is used for 

    EMDR is an approach used to treat PTSD. It’s one of several types of therapy recommended for this condition. 

    Does it work? 

    There’s good evidence that EMDR works for treating PTSD and trauma-related problems.

  • Family therapy Family therapy

    What is it? 

    Family therapy helps family members communicate with each other. A therapist meets with the family in a safe environment to help them explore each other’s points of view and relationships. 

    Family therapy is designed to work with the family’s strengths to enable them to try different ways of behaving towards each other. This can help if there’s a particular problem or condition that a person within the family is dealing with. 

    Types of condition family therapy is used for 

    Family therapy can be used for lots of situations and conditions such as stress, emotional and behavioural problems, eating disorders, substance abuse and schizophrenia. Family therapy can play a part in helping you manage or cope with a condition, alongside other treatments – medicines or other talking therapies – that may be the main treatment for the condition. 

    Does it work? 

    Family therapy isn’t designed to cure conditions, it works to help people strengthen their relationships with family members in order to help reduce symptoms and make them easier to manage and cope with. Research has found family therapy to be helpful for a variety of situations and conditions.

  • Short-term psychodynamic therapy Short-term psychodynamic therapy

    What is it? 

    Short-term psychodynamic therapy focuses on increasing your awareness about what’s happening in your life now, what’s happened in the past and how your feelings and thoughts are affected by your experiences. It gives you a regular time to talk to a therapist about your feelings towards yourself and others. It can help you change your thoughts and behaviours, and how you make decisions. 

    Types of condition psychodynamic therapy is used for 

    Short-term psychodynamic therapy can be used to treat depression and social anxiety. Short-term means you are likely to have up to 25–30 50-minute sessions over the course of six to eight months. It can be used as the sole treatment, or another therapy might be offered at the same time. Treatment with medicines may be used instead or with the therapy. 

    Does it work? 

    This type of therapy doesn’t lend itself to scientific studies so there isn’t very much hard proof that it works. While some people find this type of therapy helpful, to date there is only a small amount of research to support it. You might have this therapy on its own or in combination with medicines.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)

    What is it? 

    Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is used to treat depression. It works by helping you understand how your depression may be linked to your relationships and how they work. The therapy focuses on helping you strengthen relationships to improve your connections and experiences with others and help improve your symptoms of depression. 

    Types of condition IPT is used for 

    IPT can be used to treat adults with depression. It has also been adapted for teenagers and young people with depression (IPT-A). 

    Does it work? 

    There’s strong proof that IPT works for people who have depression. You might have this therapy on its own, or in combination with medicines.

  • Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)

    What is it?

    CAT is where you work with a therapist to look at how your experiences in life have led to the problems in your life now. Your therapist will help you look at ways of coping and dealing with your problems so you feel better. 

    Types of condition CAT is used for 

    CAT is recommended as one of several talking therapies for treating anorexia. 

    Does it work? 

    CAT is recommended as a treatment for anorexia but it’s important to know that there isn’t a lot of strong research that tells us for sure how well CAT and other talking therapies work. You might have this therapy on its own or in combination with medicines.

  • Behavioural activation Behavioural activation

    What is it? 

    Behavioural activation focuses on setting specific goals or activities to work towards. It's often used to treat depression. The goals and activities are often things you used to enjoy before you became depressed. They are also usually activities that are known to be good for your mood. If you’re now not doing these activities, your mood may be worse and your symptoms of depression more severe. Safely reintroducing activities into your life – with the right support – can help you feel better. It’s important to start with a few activities and slowly build them up each week. 

    Types of condition behavioural activation is used for 

    Behavioural activation is often used in the treatment of depression. 

    Does it work? 

    Behavioural activation is a recommended treatment for treating depression. It doesn’t have as much proof to support it as cognitive behavioural therapy or interpersonal therapy do, but you may find it works for you. You might have this therapy on its own or you might have medicines and the therapy together.

  • Counselling Counselling

    What is it? 

    Counselling is a type of therapy where you meet with a therapist to talk about how you’re feeling. It can be helpful to talk to someone who isn’t part of your family or circle of friends. It gives you a safe place to talk things through with someone who is trained specifically to help you express your feelings and help you be clearer about how you feel about yourself, your life and those around you. 

    Types of condition counselling is used for 

    People may have counselling for a variety of reasons such as bereavement, divorce, or other life-changing situations. It can also be used in the treatment of mental health conditions like depression

    Does it work? 

    Lots of people have counselling and, depending on your condition or problem, it may help you to feel better. Counselling might not be the first treatment your doctor suggests – it will depend on what your condition is and how much it’s affecting you and your life. Some conditions might be treated with medicines and counselling together.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    • British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) 
    • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy 
    • The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice 
    • The British Psychoanalytic Council 
    • IPT UK
    • The Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy (ACAT) 
    • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


    • Cognitive behavioural therapy. The Royal College of Psychiatrists., published July 2013
    • Depression in adults: the treatment and management of depression in adults. National Centre for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2009.
    • Generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) in adults: management in primary, secondary and community care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), January 2011.
    • Baldwin DS, Anderson IA, Nutt DJ, et al. Evidence-based pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive–compulsive disorder: a revision of the 2005 guidelines from the British Association for Psychopharmacology. J Psychopharmacol 2014.
    • Obsessive compulsive disorder. Core interventions in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2005.
    • Social anxiety disorder: recognition, assessment and treatment. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2013.
    • Eating disorders. Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), January 2004.
    • Management of chronic pain. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), December 2013.
    • Psychosis and schizophrenia in adults: treatment and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2014.
    • Bipolar disorder: the assessment and management of bipolar disorder in adults, children and young people in primary and secondary care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), April 2015.
    • Non-pharmaceutical management of depression in adults. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), 2010.
    • Types of therapy. Mind., accessed 4 September 2015
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): the management of PTSD in adults and children in primary and secondary care. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2005.
    • What is family therapy? Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice., accessed 4 September 2015
    • Psychotherapies. The Royal College of Psychiatrists., published October 2014
    • FAQs. Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice., accessed 4 September 2015
    • The evidence base of systemic family and couples therapy. The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice., published January 2011
    • Depression in children and young people: identification and management in primary, community and secondary care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), September 2005.
    • Depression: evidence update April 2012. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), April 2012.
    • Veale D. Behavioural activation for depression. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 2008; 14:19–36. doi:10.1192/apt.bp.107.004051
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