The Main Currents in Psychotherapy

When choosing a therapeutic professional, it's important to know what you should expect and what you'll find. This article will guide you in the particularities of the main psychological currents in psychotherapy.
The Main Currents in Psychotherapy
Bernardo Peña Herrera

Written and verified by the psychologist Bernardo Peña Herrera.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

When choosing a psychology professional, it’s important to know from which current they work, in order to ensure you consult the one best suited to deal with your problem. Nevertheless, all the approaches involve making positive changes in your way of thinking or acting.

You must be aware that if you want to solve a problem, you have to change something that you were doing wrong. This usually involves a specific way of thinking or behaving.

Below, we’ll explain the main currents in psychotherapy. Some professionals alternate between several of them depending on the needs of the patient. You can also alternate and use as many as you need yourself as there’s no universal formula. After all, we’re all different and what works for one of us doesn’t necessarily suit another.

The main currents in psychotherapy


Psychoanalysis focuses mainly on the past. The patient is analyzed in order to search for the psychic conflict that’s causing them discomfort. Consequently, the unconscious becomes the conscious, and the inner world can be understood and ordered.

This therapy is useful if you feel bad and don’t know why. Or, you may know the reason but, despite having been given good advice, you still can’t solve it. Therefore, the therapist will investigate your life to find the real root of the problem.

As the therapist will be analyzing you, they won’t speak as much as you. They’ll help you to recognize why you’re suffering, and give you the tools to make the necessary changes for it to disappear.

The basis of this theory is that symptoms are nothing more than manifestations of psychological conflict. The important thing is to address this unconscious conflict so that the symptoms subside or disappear.

Psychological currents, psychotherapy consultation


Behaviorism is based on the present problem and not its origins. It’s suitable for treating specific problems that have already been diagnosed. It’s a short-term therapy, in which the professional directs the conversation at all times and teaches the patient how to think and act in a realistic and more adjusted way.

This therapy is appropriate if your main problem is a lack of learning resources when dealing with specific situations. The professional must be extremely influential and sincere with you in order to make you realize that you have to change your behavior. In fact,  if you want your problems to disappear, you must replace your negative habits with more constructive ones. It’s like a kind of behavioral re-education.

Therefore, behaviorists seek to modify behavior, as a basis for people to improve their emotions and thoughts. It’s often useful when other therapies have failed. In reality, it’s often the last resort.


Humanism tries to bring out the best that each person has inside them, in order to restore their inner calm. The professional will transmit empathy, sensitivity, respect, and acceptance. It’ll be an equal relationship.

If you undergo this therapy, the therapist will trust in your abilities rather than take control. In fact, they’ll guide you so that you find the answer to your discomfort yourself. You have to connect with your inner being and become independent and fulfilled.

This current is often criticized because it’s based more on intuition than on a scientific method. However, on numerous occasions, it’s been demonstrated that scientific methods aren’t necessary to solve people’s discomfort.

Woman at the psychologist


Gestalt therapy focuses on feeling the here and now, and promotes action, creativity and unconditional acceptance. Emotions and non-verbal language play a leading role.

If you undergo this therapy, you’ll be taught to pay attention to your emotions and, before acting, to be aware of how you think and feel. It helps you to get to know yourself, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

This therapy is based on being aware of the present moment, of how you do things, what’s happening at this precise moment, and how you’re feeling and interpreting it. Gestalt therapy is intended for those who want to improve and develop their human potential and personal growth.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most popular kind of psychotherapy today. In addition, it’s the one that’s backed by the most scientific evidence and tends to be taught in the University curricula.

If you choose this therapy, it’ll focus more on changing your ways of thinking and reasoning. Because by changing the way you think, your emotions will also change. Therefore, as you adopt more rational and objective thoughts, your suffering will also subside.

In fact, with this therapy, you’ll learn a new way of thinking and reasoning, thus acting. It focuses on the present and aims to teach you new ways of seeing, thinking, and behaving.

The psychologist who uses this therapy is well supported by scientific evidence. It’s generally directive and tells the patient how to deal with specific situations. It enjoys a high percentage of success.

Acceptance and commitment therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy is one of the more recent additions to the therapeutic world. It’s one of the Third Generation Therapies. It provides a philosophy of life and is a cultural perspective with which to understand and treat psychological problems as well as an alternative to experiential avoidance. It carries out a functional analysis of psychological problems and introduces a behavioral way of analyzing emotions, feelings, memories, and thoughts.

This therapy is based on the way in which your different concepts, memories, and words are related to your problems. In fact, the therapist reveals the dysfunctional rules that you’re imposing on yourself. For example, avoidance could explain many of your problems when you’re not facing your own personal experiences.

When you accept who you are without trying to change, who you are begins to transform.

Emotional and cognitive control

As stated by Kohlenberg’s team (2004), in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the characteristics of psychopathology aren’t fundamental. Of importance is the role that maladaptive behaviors play in avoiding their internal events. The therapy has two main elements. On the one hand, the role played by private events in the explanations of problems. On the other, the importance of the therapeutic relationship.

Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to ensure that the patient achieves emotional and cognitive control to enjoy a satisfactory life. However, it’s not through avoidance, but via acceptance. Acceptance means facing an event experiencing your feelings as feelings, your thoughts as thoughts, and your memories as memories. In this way, you don’t avoid, but you observe and from there you change. In effect, you accept what can’t be changed and commit to changing what you can.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.