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An Introduction to Psychotherapeutic Modalities

by David Dibben M.Ed (Candidate)

Congratulations! You've taken the first step on your journey to finding a therapist that is right for you. This will ultimately be a rewarding journey full of self-discovery and growth. In the meantime, you may find yourself wondering what the process will actually look like, and who will be the best fit when it comes to meeting your particular needs.

Every therapist approaches client sessions from a specific modality — or style. To help you understand more about the many different modalities and how they may play a role in your own individual sessions, we have created a guide that breaks down some of the common terms you may come across.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

One of the most commonly practiced modalities, CBT is popular for its pragmatic way of understanding how our thoughts shape our interpretation of our world — and ultimately, our behaviour. One of the first steps of CBT is identifying what are called “cognitive distortions.” These are particular ways in which we have learned to interpret events in our life that can often manifest in a self-defeating or negative manner. For example, one of the more common distortions called “filtering” is when we examine a particular situation in our lives and magnify the negative aspects, while simultaneously filtering out the positive aspects. By understanding how these particular thought patterns colour our lives, we can begin to challenge them and create new, more balanced ways of interpreting events.


An increasingly popular approach among psychotherapists in recent decades, the theory and practice of mindfulness is thousands of years old. With roots in meditation, the practice of mindfulness provides a simple and practical method for relieving stress. In essence, the practice of mindfulness involves simply focusing your attention on the present moment and experiencing all that arises in a non-judgemental manner. Incorporating a mindfulness practice into your daily life can improve both mental and physical health.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT):

This modality — informed by mindfulness and behavioural approaches — empowers the client to be more accepting of themselves while encouraging commitment to specific behavioural changes. As the name implies, this form of psychotherapy does not aim to avoid particular feelings, but instead to increase our comfort with them through mindfulness, and ultimately, acceptance. The process of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can include specific protocols to enact change with regard to a specific behaviour or pattern.


This form of psychotherapy is more philosophical in nature and typically involves delving deeper into universal aspects of human experience such as freedom, death, responsibility, and meaning. When dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety, the existential therapist will treat them as normal aspects of human life, rather than pathological symptoms that need resolving. By focusing on the inherent freedoms of human existence, this type of therapy hopes to empower clients to find deeper meaning in their lives.

Internal Family Systems:

This approach to psychotherapy endeavours to examine the various “parts” of ourselves while working with the goal of integrating them into a more cohesive and unified whole. Each individual part is a valuable aspect of Self, and possesses its own purpose and qualities. Using the Internal Family Systems approach can help us understand how they are organized. From there, we can harmonize each part in a way that allows us to heal and become a more complete version of our Self.

This is a brief introduction to a handful of the many modalities of psychotherapy. Each approach has its own assumptions, ways of relating to the client, and list of diagnoses that it is best suited for. But if you are now left with even more questions than answers, fear not! Research suggests it is not the factors unique to each modality that account for the most growth in your therapy journey, but instead, the common factors that are present across all modalities. These can include collaboration on goals with your therapist, the empathy and positive affirmation that they provide, and the therapeutic alliance that is established (Wampold, 2015). With this in mind, go forth on your search for a therapist who you feel best aligns with your values and schedule a consultation with our Intake Coordinator, Daisy, to see if it’s a good fit.

The hardest part is taking the first step — good luck!


Wampold B. E. (2015). How important are the common factors in psychotherapy? An update. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 14(3), 270–277. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20238

David Dibben is in his final year of a Masters of Education in Counselling & Psychotherapy with a collaborative specialization in Indigenous Health from O.I.S.E at the University of Toronto. Part of our Training Therapists team, David is completing a clinical practicum placement at Mindful Maelstrom.

Looking for a psychotherapist in Toronto? Our Intake Coordinator Daisy would be happy to help navigate your options: daisy@mindfulmaelstrom.com

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