Psychotherapies at a glance

What works best for bipolar disorder? How about curbing the violence of conduct disorder? Experts are increasingly looking into therapies and programs to find those in which scientific studies actually show they work. As such, multiple lists of so-called EBTs, or evidence-based therapies, are being compiled.

In April, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors created a comprehensive list which can found at, along with other studies.

The most common psychotherapies used in many programs include:

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) helps improve a child’s moods and behavior by examining confused or distorted patterns of thinking. Distorted thinking produces feelings and moods that can lead to damaging behaviors. The therapist works to identify what causes unwanted feelings or behaviors. The therapist then helps the child replace this thinking with thoughts that result in more appropriate feelings and behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be used to treat older adolescents who have chronic suicidal feelings/thoughts, harm themselves or have Borderline Personality Disorder. The therapy emphasizes taking responsibility for one’s problems and helps people examine how they deal with conflict and negative feelings. This often involves a combination of group and individual sessions.

Family Therapy focuses on helping the family function in more positive and constructive ways by exploring patterns of communication and providing support and education.

Group Therapy uses the power of group dynamics and peer interactions to increase understanding and improve social skills. There are many different types of group therapy (psychodynamic, social skills, substance abuse, multifamily, parent support, etc.)

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a brief treatment specifically developed and tested for depression. The goal of IPT is to improve interpersonal functioning by decreasing the symptoms of depression. IPT has been shown to be effective in adolescents with depression.

Multi-systemic Therapy (MST) is a community and family-based therapy that has shown great success in treating aggressive, anti-social children with conduct disorders, but is also being tested and used on children with other mental and emotional problems. It involves medical and psychological therapy, but also identifies and creates supports for children and families at virtually every avenue in their lives. If a dance coach, uncle or neighbor can help a child cope and succeed, that individual is formally conscripted into the cause of helping the child succeed.

Play Therapy uses toys, blocks, dolls, puppets, drawings and games to help the child recognize and verbalize feelings. The psychotherapist identifies themes or patterns to understand the child’s problems. Through a combination of talk and play the child has an opportunity to better understand and manage conflicts, feelings and behavior.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy emphasizes understanding the issues and inner conflicts that motivate and influence a child’s behavior, thoughts and feelings. It works on the assumption that a child’s behavior and feelings will improve once inner struggles are revealed.

Wrap-around Therapy is another term used to describe a broad, family- and community-based system of care, in which children and families receive a large range of services at home and in the community from multiple providers.