10 Most Common Counseling Approaches You May Encounter


Children participate in ABA play therapy.

Finding the right counselor in a sea of specialties and counseling approaches can be a daunting task. Navigating an overwhelming amount of information may lead you down a rabbit hole of confusion. Whether you’re searching for therapy to meet your needs of trauma, family counseling, or anxiety, there is an array of counseling approaches to consider, including integrative therapy. Let’s examine the ten most common counseling approaches you will encounter, including the benefits of a therapist who utilizes an integrative therapy approach. We’ll also look at how many of these counseling approaches benefit children with autism when pairing with their ABA therapy sessions.


What are Approaches to Counseling?

Counseling approaches vary according to each therapists’ training and counseling style. Approaches to counseling affect a therapist’s interactions with their clients, their methods, and their focus during therapy. While comparing the different counseling approaches, several similarities between some of these therapy models will come to light, as will many differences.


10 Most Common Counseling Approaches

Let’s take a look at the top ten most common counseling approaches you may encounter.


1. Psychodynamic Counseling

Psychodynamic counseling is the most well-known approach to therapy. It’s an approach originating from Freudian theory, promoting the essential need for a strong therapist-patient bond.

This counseling approach aims to help clients develop the psychological tools they need to deal with complex situations and emotions. Freud believed in the impact of one’s early experiences and unconscious motivators on their behavior.

Therapy sessions may include:

  • Dream interpretation
  • Free association
  • Projective tests
  • Hypnotism

While psychodynamic therapy was originally a long process, there are now successful short-term approaches that prove to be as effective.


2. Humanistic/Client-Centered Therapy

The humanistic counseling approach supports the assumption that people already possess the qualities they need to thrive.

This counseling approach encourages:

  • Empathy
  • Altruism
  • Intuition
  • Creativity
  • Humility
  • Curiosity

This approach to counseling, developed by Carl Rogers, later led to his founding of client-centered therapy – a humanistic counseling approach that supports clients in reaching their full potential.

Client-centered therapy provides the patient with a safe environment with a therapist who is empathetic and nonjudgmental. This method allows patients to experience a sense of openness and complete acceptance and love.

This approach stresses the vital need to allow the patient to make their discoveries rather than bombard them with the therapist’s direction. In this approach, the therapist’s role is to guide the patient in an accepting way, doing most of the talking as they discover the good within themselves.


3. Mindfulness-Based Counseling

Mindfulness-based counseling is an approach leading to a mental state of nonjudgmental awareness of one’s present moment experience.

This approach includes encouraging curiosity, openness, and acceptance through the patients:

  • Environment
  • Sensations
  • Thoughts
  • Consciousness
  • Bodily states


During mindfulness-based therapy sessions, the patient focuses on their thoughts and feelings at the moment, without making judgments. Like Buddhist traditions, this approach teaches the patient to be open-minded and accepting when responding to their feelings and thoughts.

Mindfulness-based counseling continues to grow in popularity for increasing relaxation methods while removing any negative or stressful judgments. It emphasizes the importance of teaching patients how they can deal with their emotional stressors through reflection. Mindfulness approaches often pair well with other approaches, including CBT, to help relieve anxiety effectively.

Child meditating for therapy.

ABA Therapy and Mindfulness Therapy

The use of mindfulness therapy in ABA therapy is incredibly beneficial. Through various mindfulness interventions and training during a child’s ABA  therapy sessions, families and children with ASD can significantly reduce levels of stress. ABA therapy sessions with a mindfulness approach help every family member learn to develop healthy coping skills to produce positive outcomes for the whole family. As children continue to learn new behaviors and skills through their ABA therapy sessions, parents will benefit from ongoing mindfulness training. ABA therapy team members will provide parents with the tools and techniques necessary to continue in natural environments. As with all ABA therapy goals, incorporating parent involvement helps ensure these ABA therapy strategies can easily integrate into the child’s natural environments to help them thrive.


4. Rational Emotive Therapy

Rational emotive therapy is a type of client-centered therapy, or CBT, where the patient’s distress is viewed as a function of irrational thinking. During sessions, the therapist works with the patient to understand a particular event’s cognitive processes and how it may have created this outcome. This method helps the patient understand that their belief about a given situation, rather than the situation itself, is and should be the focus of therapy.

In contrast to client-centered therapy, this approach is active and directive, with an intent to help patients avoid their self-defeating beliefs. Instead, it works to help them experience a healthy, positive sense of wellbeing.


5. Reality Therapy

Reality therapy examines ideas about the social context of human behavior. Reality therapy is a client-centered type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy focusing on improving present circumstances and relationships while deterring from discussions of past events. It encompasses Choice Theory, which focuses on the ability individuals have to control their behaviors. This counseling approach recognizes not all aspects of life are within one’s power to change, yet we continue to face opportunities and respond rationally or irrationally.

Reality therapy helps patients learn to take control of their lives by enhancing their ability to build meaningful and useful relationships. This present-day, non-symptom-focused approach requires the counselor to maintain a positive, friendly, nonjudgmental role. Reality therapy promotes each individual’s responsibility for their actions while helping them learn to make decisions that are in line with the visions they have for their lives.

Most importantly, this approach to therapy centers around the idea that one’s most essential need is to receive love, feel a sense of belonging, and that all other basic needs will be satisfied by building strong connections with others. It teaches patients that although we cannot control how we feel, we can control how we behave and think and make better choices.


ABA Therapy and Reality Therapy

This method aligns well with ABA therapy beliefs in building a strong, trusting bond between therapist and child. By establishing a nurturing bond, ABA therapy sessions can help the child thrive and make decisions that align with their overall ABA therapy goals.


6. Systemic Therapy

Systemic therapy examines the influence of various patterns across systems, including family, school, or work, which influence our behaviors and psychological issues. A systemic approach strives to focus on the system rather than the issue at hand.

Systemic therapy pairs well with family counseling, enabling identifying dysfunctional patterns of communication and various behaviors between family members. Family members work with their therapist to recognize issues and develop healthier responses, roles, interactions, and overall dynamics.


7. Narrative Therapy

We all have a story we tell ourselves about who we are. We derive meaning from our stories, as they shape and influence how we see and react to the world around us. The narratives we create impact decisions we make and influence our ability to maintain and enjoy satisfying, meaningful experiences. Narrative therapy helps patients become the expert in their own lives. Narrative therapy counselors work with the patient to create alternate stories. Doing so helps create a nonjudgmental story that aligns more with reality.


8. Creative Therapy

The creative therapy approach incorporates various art mediums to help improve mood, behavior, and other aspects of one’s wellbeing. Creative therapy often pairs well with other forms of therapy, including CBT, to provide optimal results.

Music and art therapy, for instance, promote benefits including:

  • Increases in positive feelings
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety
  • Promotes healing
  • Creates a positive self-image
  • Encourages self-expression

Children in art therapy.

ABA Therapy and Art Therapy

When therapists pair ABA therapy with art therapy, children with autism experience tremendous benefits. Through art and ABA  therapy, therapists can work closely with children to form bonds and promote communication. During sessions, children learn to replace undesirable behaviors with preferred behaviors using strategies they learn during this creative outlet.

Art therapy and its practices provide an antecedent-based intervention for children with autism. As with ABA therapy practices, ABI offers an evidence-based practice that stresses the importance of introducing stimulus changes before the undesirable situation occurs. Art within ABA therapy allows similar positive reinforcements in the form of the child selecting their favorite art activities during a session.

ABA therapy encourages family members to participate in art therapy and training to receive proper education and hands-on training. This opportunity allows families to incorporate art and ABA therapy at home and other natural environments.


9. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, revolves around the assumption that combining cognitive and behavioral therapy approaches allow one to focus on how their thoughts and behaviors dictate their feelings in any particular situation. CBT focuses on individual learning to control their brain rather than allowing the brain to have control. In other words, how you think dramatically affects how you feel. If you can change your thoughts, you can begin to change your emotions.


Principles of CBT include:

  • An easier understanding of behaviors by exposing their accurate functions
  • Substituting new adaptive learning experiences for previous nonadaptive learning processes can be beneficial.
  • Therapists should utilize a scientific approach to therapy by creating hypotheses about their patient’s cognitive and behavioral patterns.
  • Intervene and observe outcomes
  • Reframe original hypotheses when necessary


There are a variety of useful techniques and components a therapist may incorporate in CBT therapy, including:

  • Journaling
  • Social skills training
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Exposure
  • Problem-solving training
  • Relaxation training


10. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy 

DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that tries to pinpoint and change one’s negative thinking patterns and create positive behavioral changes. DBT teaches patients the skills they need to cope with and replace their unhealthy behaviors.

The term itself -dialectical- stems from the idea that pairing two opposites in therapy – acceptance and change – will provide more effective results than using either alone.

One unique aspect of DBT is its focus on understanding and accepting the patient’s experiences as a way for their therapist to reassure them and support the work necessary to change their negative behaviors.

Comprehensive dialectical behavioral therapy consists of four components:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group skills training
  • Phone coaching, as necessary for crises in between sessions
  • Consultation group meetings for health care providers to discuss patient care


The Integrative Therapy Approach

Most therapists choose to utilize an integrative therapy approach – a progressive form of psychotherapy. Integrative therapy combines various therapeutic tools and approaches to fit the needs of each client.

By utilizing the understanding of normal human development, integrative therapy modifies standard treatments to help develop individual tools and methods, as they tend to affect each client in different ways. By implementing integrative therapy, therapists combine elements from different styles of psychological theory and research. Integrative therapy allows more flexibility and supports an inclusive approach to treating a patient than a single, traditional form of psychotherapy offers.

Integrative therapy use spans therapeutic work with children, adolescents, and adults, in individual, family, and group settings. An integrative therapy approach can treat a variety of psychological problems and disorders and takes into consideration the patients:

  • Preferences
  • Needs
  • Characteristics
  • Physical abilities
  • Motivation level
  • Spiritual beliefs


How Integrative Therapy Works

Integrative therapy is more inclusive of the patient than traditional forms of therapy. While each counseling approach varies somewhat, they all can yield results with similar, more desirable outcomes. Since a single approach to psychotherapy does not always produce the most benefit to a patient, therapists who may be trained in one therapeutic approach often resort to integrative therapy practices. Therapists use tools and strategies from other therapies to create a unique and highly effective treatment form more suitable and sufficient for their patients.


Integrative Therapy Professionals

Integrative therapy is a common practice. Today, many psychotherapists refer to themselves as integrative therapists rather than identifying with a specific therapeutic approach. When considering an integrative therapy professional, keep in mind that integrative therapy is more of a specialized approach within psychotherapy’s general practice rather than a form of psychotherapy itself. Any licensed, professional psychotherapist may choose to take an integrative therapy approach. It is their educational background, experience, and skills that will guide their effectiveness.


Regardless of your need for counseling, there are a wealth of options at your disposal. We hope that this information provides you with a more in-depth look at the most common counseling approaches available to you, including integrative therapy’s effectiveness.

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