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Common Clinical Approaches Therapists Use

A clinical philosophy or style is the general approach a therapist subscribes to, believes in, and/or uses in treatment.

Some common clinical approaches therapists may take include: 

reality oriented (therapy that focuses on counseling and problem solving in the here and now as well as offering instruction in how to create a better future)

behavioral oriented (a treatment approach that aims to help patients substitute desirable behaviors for undesirable ones)

gestalt oriented (a kind of therapy that focuses on the gaining of awareness of emotions and behaviors in the present rather than the past)

patient centered (any system of psychotherapy that assumes that the patient has the internal resources needed to improve and is the one who is in the best position to resolve his own problems)

More On Clinical Style

You can also ask your therapist to describe their personal clinical style in simple terms. For example, one therapist might say: “I find that confronting patients and really getting them to dig deep and examine their pasts is the best way to achieve success.” Your personal response could be, “Wow. I like that gung-ho attitude.” Or you might want to run for the hills.

Another therapist might say, “Generally I allow the patient to take the lead—I find a nonjudgmental approach works best.” You might prefer this more gentle approach. Or you may want a therapist who offers more guidance and structure.

One therapist might like to explore what the basis of your problem is right away. Another might like to address your feelings and behavior first and worry about the basis of the problem only down the road, if at all.

How To Find Out What Your Therapist’s Approach Is

Either on the phone when making your first appointment, or at the latest, at your first appointment, ask the therapist to explain what their approach is. Now’s your chance to get a basic picture of this therapist’s clinical viewpoints.

Don’t be surprised if the therapist qualifies his statements by saying that he might change his style or technique depending on the issues that arise during therapy. This is quite common and a valid approach.

Many therapists will say they like the patient to take the lead in certain areas and generally like to ask the patient what he would like to focus on and how much confrontation is comfortable for him.

By listening to a therapist’s response, you will be better able to gauge if you will be comfortable with him or not. Being comfortable with a therapist leads to trusting a therapist, which then leads to developing the kind of relationship needed to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.


Even though some approaches might work better than others, if you don’t feel comfortable with a therapist’s style, you probably won’t benefit. If you are comfortable with the therapist’s personality and their approach, then this therapist might be right for you.



This post is adapted from Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On

Common Clinical Approaches Therapists Use

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2016). Common Clinical Approaches Therapists Use. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Feb 2016
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