Psychological Therapy
Talking Therapy


Techniques designed to positively influence an individual’s mental health

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … one’s habits, dispositions, and sensibilities, distilled from life’s experiences
  • Knowing is … situational enacting (of identity)
  • Learner is … client with pathology
  • Learning is … confronting/managing/overcoming (pathology)
  • Teaching is … therapy


Psychotherapy encompasses a range of techniques based on personal interaction that are intended to support mental well-being through influencing personal behaviors. Psychotherapy focuses especially on maladaptations related to temperament, behavior, thought, and/or perception. More than a thousand schools have emerged, drawing on perspectives as diverse as Behaviorisms, Psychoanalytic Theories, and Complex Systems Research. While some approaches are group based, most involve only client and therapist. And, while interaction between therapist/practitioner and patient/client is central to almost all models, many involve techniques that extend beyond the actual encounter with a psychotherapist and may include hypnosis, medications, dream analysis, and/or behavior modification. Some prominent approaches are described below. We have clustered them according to principal foci or assumptions. (NOTE: Our categories are not absolute; some approaches fit under multiple headings.)
Psychotherapies focused on the unconscious and/or embodied action
  • Psychoanalysis (a.k.a., Depth Psychology; Sigmund Freud; 1890s) – clusters of theories and techniques to address mental-health disorders and that focus on the unconscious mind. Many schools of thought have arisen (see the Psychoanalytic Theories). While commonly criticized, its influences are discernible in the assumptions, assertions, emphases, and/or techniques of most types of Psychotherapy.
  • Somatic Psychology (a.k.a., Body Psychotherapy, Somatherapy; Wilhelm Reich; 1880s) – focused on bodily experience. Somatic Psychology challenges the commonsensical mind–body dichotomy in the assertion that psychological issues always manifest bodily. Somatic Psychology is thus aimed at helping the client develop greater empathy for their experienced body, based on the conviction that an adequate awareness will enable healing.
  • Existential–Humanistic Therapy (Humanistic–Existential Therapy) – a focus on the whole person, including subjective experiences, volition, and agency – in addition to behavior, cognition, and motivation
Psychotherapies focused on mind
  • Psychodynamic Therapy (a.k.a., Psychodynamic Psychotherapy) – category of Psychotherapy in which a therapist/practitioner helps the patient/client to become more aware of conflicting aspects of their psyche and to resolve tensions by integrating those conflicting aspects.
  • Cognitive Therapy (Aaron T. Beck; 1960s) – posits that shifting one’s habits of perception and interpretation is the key to lasting improvements to psychological problems. Treatment tends to be very collaborative and focused on affecting the individual’s thoughts, behaviors, and/or goals – often through the Socratic Method or similar technique.
  • Narrative Therapy (Michael White, David Epston; 1970s) – involves therapist and client in the co-authoring of new narratives to challenge dominant discourses and to foreground the personal values, skills, and knowledge that can be brought to bear on identified problems.
  • Cognitive Restructuring (S. Taylor; 1990s) – a process that targets “cognitive distortions” (i.e., maladaptive and irrational thoughts). Cognitive Restructuring typically involving identification, critique, and reframing of those distortions.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (John Teasdale; 1990s) – combines Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy with principles and practices associated with Mindfulness. It is associated mainly with treatment of ailments that are chronic and disorders associated with trauma and stress.
  • Cognitive Humanism (Richard Nelson-Jones; 2000s) – a mash-up of ideas and ideals from Psychotherapy, Buddhism, and Christianity, aimed at understanding what it means to be (and becoming) “fully human”
  • Guided Imagery (a.k.a. Guided Affective Imagery, Katathym Imaginative Psychotherapy; various authors, 2000s) – involves a teacher/practitioner helping a student/client to summon or simulate different sensory perceptions (usually focused on, but not limited to visual perceptions). It is applied in both formal learning situations and in therapy settings.
  • Expressive Therapies (a.k.a., Expressive Arts Therapy, Creative Arts Therapies; varied authors; 2000s) – use art, dance/movement, drama, music, poetry, and/or psychodrama as sites of therapy. Oriented by the conviction that acts of creativity can afford a client more direct access to their body, their emotions, and their thoughts, Expressive Therapies emphasize the creative process (vs. the created product).
Psychotherapies focused on behavior
  • Behavior Therapy (a.k.a., Behavioral Therapy, Behavioral Psychotherapy; title attributed to Arnold Lazarus, but there were many innovators in the 1950s and 1960s) – broad category encompassing diverse approaches that incorporate techniques drawn from Behaviorisms into psychotherapeutic practices. Thus, aspects that can feature prominently include counterconditioning, rewards & punishments, habituation, systematic desensitization, functional analysis, and other techniques drawn from Behavior Modification.
Psychotherapies focused on mind and behavior
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (a.k.a., Rational Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy; Albert Ellis; 1950s) – assumes that humans construct emotional difficulties through irrational processes, and thus casts therapy as an educational process in which the client is taught to use more conscious and rational processes to identify, dispute, displace, and replace negative habits and processes.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Aaron T. Beck; 1970s) – combines behavioral and cognitive psychology to treat already-diagnosed mental disorders. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is practically oriented, so the therapist’s role is typically conceived in terms of working with the client to identify strategies that address specified goals.
  • Structured Learning (Alfred Goldstein, Robert Sprafkin, Jane Gershaw; 1970s) – a multistage process focused on psychological skills training, involving deliberate modeling, role play, feedback, and transfer of learnings to other settings (Note: not to be confused with Structured Learning of Teaching Styles Discourses)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Marsha M. Lineham; 1980s) – combines emphases from several traditions, including emotional self-regulation from modern psychology and mindfulness practices from contemplative meditation traditions. It emphasizes acceptance of emotional dysfunction while exploring less-maladaptive alternatives, with an overarching goal of a “life worth living.”
  • Coherence Therapy (Bruce Ecker, Laurel Hulley; 2000s) – rejecting the commonplace assumption that psychological issues are rooted in irrational or pathological processes, Coherence Therapy regards out-of-control symptoms as sensible and coherent expressions of one’s mind–body system. Responses are thus not sought in verbal-cognitive exchanges but in analyses of nonverbal, emotional, perceptual, and bodily knowings, through which one’s resistance to change is engaged as an ally in therapy rather than an enemy.
Psychotherapies with more holist or systems sensibilities
  • Integrative Psychotherapy – umbrella term applied to approaches that aim to integrate elements from different schools. Loci of integration vary, and may include diverse techniques, theories, pathologies, and/or aspects of personality/being.
  • Gestalt Therapy (Frtiz Perls, Laura Perls; 1940s) – draws on insights from domains as diverse as Eastern philosophy, Phenomenology, Psychoanalytic Theories, Gestaltism, and Complex Systems Research. Gestalt Therapy focuses more on what is happening in the moment (e.g., what’s being done, thought, and felt) than on what might/could/should be. It is oriented by the conviction that greater awareness of what one is doing, along with the social and environmental contexts of one’s life, will enable/embolden one to effect significant and meaningful changes.
  • Transpersonal Therapy (Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, Anthony Sutich; 1960s) – focuses on one’s spirit, rather than one’s body or mind. Transpersonal Therapy is concerned with spiritual enlightenment, oriented toward humanity’s higher potentials and seeking insight into and realization of spiritual, unitive, and other transcendent modes of consciousness.
  • Multimodal Therapy (Arnold Lazarus; 1970s) – based on the assertion that, since humans are biological and social beings, psychological treatments should address multiple modalities. Seven, in particular, are identified: behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal relationships, and drugs/biology (known by the acronym BASIC I.D.).
  • Feminist Therapies (Susan Thomas; 1970s) – focused on socio-political and other cultural aspects of pathologies and solutions, especially among female clients. Feminist Therapies are concerned with interrupting social forces associated with sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, ethnicity, religion, age, and other categories of distinction. Feminist Therapies see the empowerment of the client as an integral element in any therapy.
  • Systemic Therapy (Arist von Schlippe, Jochen Schweitzer; 1990s) – Rather than seeking causes or assigning diagnoses for psychological issues, Systemic Therapy focuses on reformatting patterns of interaction in groups (e.g., families, workplace communities) by introducing creative nudges to interrupt and alter stagnant behaviors.
  • Positive Psychology (Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Christopher Peterson, Barbara Fredickson; 1990s) – the scientific study of “the good life.” It is sometimes described as a reaction to Psychoanalytic Theories and Behaviorisms, which are seen as negative, focused on maladaptive behavior, and driven by the past. In contrast, Positive Psychology looks to the future as it focuses on such qualities as positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and purpose.
  • Beck’s Generic Cognitive Model (Aaron Beck, 2010s) – an elaboration of Beck’s earlier models of Cognitive Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (both described above) to incorporate advances in genetics, epigenetics, Cognitive Psychology, and other fields. It posits that every psychological problem can be decomposed into a specific “formulation,” which can then be used to tailor a strategy to address the pathology.
  • Tripartite Model of Psychotherapy (Douglas Scaturo, 2010s) – a model of learning/therapy that brings together the emotional (in the therapeutic relationship), the cognitive (in the therapist’s deliberate interventions), and the behavioral (of patients in their broader worlds).
Psychotherapies that may involve medications
  • Psychiatry is a branch of medical science that attends to studying, preventing, diagnosing, and treating disorders that may manifest as maladaptations of emotion, behavior, thought, and/or perception. Client disorders are typically aligned with concepts and conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, currently in its 5th edition). Treatments typically combine psychiatric medication with one or more types of Psychotherapy.
  • Psychedelic Therapy – makes use of psychedelic (literally, “mind-manifesting”) substances to assist in recovery of repressed traumatic events and to manage extreme emotions, as well as to enhance the relationship between the therapist and client.
Psychotherapies that may are focused on pragmatic results
  • Reality Therapy (William Glasser; 1960s) – oriented by the assumption that psychological issues are rooted in failures to meet basic needs. To gain insight into how to meet one’s needs, Reality Therapy focuses on realism, responsibility, and right-and-wrong (rather than pathologies), it emphasizes the here-and-now (rather than the past), and it deals with one’s conscious realities (rather than unconscious processes).
  • Brief Therapy (a.k.a., Brief Psychotherapy and Planned Short-Term Therapy; Milton H. Erickson; 1970s) – focused on providing a direct intervention for a single, specified clinical or subjective condition. Brief Therapy is more solution-based than it is problem-focused, and so it devotes less energy to excavating a problem’s origins and more energy to addressing factors that sustain it. Pragmatically minded, Brief Therapy acknowledges there are likely many possible paths to a beneficial outcome. Decisions are thus based on observations of what seems to be working rather than imaginings of what should be working.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, a.k.a., Comprehensive Distancing; Steven C. Hayes; 1980s) – aiming at being present with what life brings, rather than eliminating difficult emotions. ACT techniques involve attending openly to the causes and consequences unpleasant feelings – not to overcome them, but to respond more productively in situations that provoke them.
  • Human Givens Model (Joe Griffin, Ivan Tyrrell; 1990s) – proposes that humans have prespecified sets of physical needs (e.g., air, water, nutrition, sleep) and emotional needs (e.g., security, autonomy, status, privacy, attention, connection, intimacy, achievement, meaning). The model is concerned with supporting clients in developing strategies and using strengths to meet emotional needs.
  • Eclectic Psychotherapy is a descriptive term, used in reference to interventions in which the clinician drawn on multiple perspectives and sets of techniques in an ad hoc manner. Eclectic Psychotherapy is pragmatically oriented – concerned mainly with effectiveness in resolving problems rather than theoretical coherence.


There is extensive criticism of the healing power of most types of Psychotherapy, typically on the grounds that specific approaches are too narrow in their considerations and strategies to effectively address the intricate complexities of even common pathologies. Over the past few decades, criticisms have concentrated more on the tendency to identify the individual client as the site of pathology, thus failing to adequately consider the contributions of, for example, environmental toxins, social structures, cultural norms, changing realites, and other more-than-self influences on mood, behavior, thought, and perception. More generally, Psychotherapy isn’t so much a “discourse” as it is an “endeavor.” It is a domain defined by a shared goal rather than common beliefs. To that point, all of the sensibilities and foci represented across the many discourses we’ve examined for this site are present among the collected schools of thought that cluster under the umbrella of Psychotherapy. (For simplicity and convenience – and based on both key historical elements and prominent contemporary emphases – we have assigned Psychotherapy to a discrete location on our map. A more appropriate map “location” would be a bubble that stretches horizontally across the map and that sits mainly in the upper region, “Discourses on Influencing Learning.”)

Authors and Prominent Influences

Diffuse. A number of significant figures are identified in the brief descriptions of the specific approaches that are included in the Synopsis section, above.

Status as a Theory of Learning

For the most part, specific types of Psychotherapy are grounded in but do not elaborate well-researched principles of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Psychotherapy is centrally concerned with addressing maladaptations related to temperament, behavior, thought, and/or perception. That is, Psychotherapy is principally focused on influencing learning – which, in our analysis, renders it a discourse on teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

There is extensive criticism of the effectiveness (i.e., the healing power) of most types of Psychotherapy, typically on the grounds that specific approaches are too narrow in their considerations or strategies to effectively address the intricate complexities of even common pathologies. Over the past few decades, criticisms have concentrated more on the tendency to identify the individual client as the site of pathology, thus failing to adequately consider the contributions of social structures, cultural norms, evolving conditions, and other more-than-self influences on mood, behavior, thought, and perception. While virtually every school of thought claims both a sound theoretical grounding and significant empirical evidence, none appears to meet our criteria for a fully scientific discourse – owing in large part to contradictory theories and conflicting evidence associated with other schools of thought.


  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Comprehensive Distancing)
  • Beck’s Generic Cognitive Model
  • Behavior Therapy (a.k.a., Behavioral Therapy, Behavioral Psychotherapy)
  • Brief Therapy (a.k.a., Brief Psychotherapy and Planned Short-Term Therapy)
  • Cognitive Humanism
  • Cognitive Restructuring
  • Cognitive Therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Coherence Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Eclectic Psychotherapy
  • Existential–Humanistic Therapy (Humanistic–Existential Therapy)
  • Expressive Therapies (a.k.a., Expressive Arts Therapy, Creative Arts Therapies)
  • Feminist Therapies
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Guided Imagery (a.k.a. Guided Affective Imagery, Katathym Imaginative Psychotherapy)
  • Human Givens Model
  • Integrative Psychotherapy
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
  • Multimodal Therapy
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Positive Psychology
  • Psychedelic Therapy
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychoanalysis (a.k.a., Depth Psychology)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy (a.k.a., Psychodynamic Psychotherapy)
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (a.k.a., Rational Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy)
  • Reality Therapy
  • Somatic Psychology (a.k.a., Body Psychotherapy, Somatherapy)
  • Structured Learning
  • Systemic Therapy
  • Transpersonal Therapy
  • Tripartite Model of Psychotherapy

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Psychotherapy” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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