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Talking therapies

Some of the advice on this page may be difficult to follow during the coronavirus outbreak. Read more about minding your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak.

Talking therapies are psychological treatments. They involve talking to a trained therapist to support you to deal with negative thoughts and feelings. They help you to make positive changes.

This may take place in:

  • a group
  • one-to-one
  • using a computer
  • over the phone

There are many types of talking therapy, such as:

  • counselling
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • family therapy
  • relationship counselling
  • group therapy
  • interpersonal therapy
  • behavioural activation
  • mindfulness-based therapy
  • dialectical behaviour therapy

For some problems, one type of talking therapy may be better suited than others. Individual preferences will also influence which one works best for you.

You and your counsellor or therapist will work together to identify your goals.

The length of therapy will depend on the type of therapy and your needs.


Counselling is probably the best-known talking therapy. It is the one most likely to be available in your area.

Counselling usually consists of a number of sessions. These can be up to an hour long. You talk in confidence to a counsellor, who helps you to think about your situation.

Counselling is ideal for people who are healthy but need help coping with a current crisis, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • relationship issues
  • bereavement
  • stress


Psychotherapy helps you consider how your personality and life experiences affect your:

  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • relationships
  • behaviour

Psychotherapy helps you understand more about yourself. It enables you to deal with difficult situations more successfully.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps you manage your problems by thinking more positively. It frees you from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

CBT is based on the idea that the way you think about a situation affects how you act. Your actions then affect the way you think and feel. So, it is necessary to change both thinking (cognition) and what you do (behaviour) at the same time.

CBT has been shown to work for a variety of mental health problems, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • panic disorders
  • phobias
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • some eating disorders, especially bulimia

Online CBT

Online CBT also works well to help manage mental health and wellbeing.

Read about online CBT from the HSE and SliverCloud Health service

Family therapy

In family therapy, a therapist or a pair of therapists work with the whole family. They explore each family member’s situation and to understand the family's difficulties.

Family therapy promotes:

  • positive communication
  • enhance stress management
  • build problem-solving skills within the family

You may be offered family therapy if the whole family is in difficulty, or if a member of your family is experiencing a mental health problem.

Relationship counselling

Relationship counselling, or couples therapy, can help when a relationship is in crisis.

Both partners talk in confidence to a counsellor or therapist. Together, they explore what has gone wrong in the relationship and how to change things for the better. It can help couples learn more about each other's needs and to communicate better.

Ideally, both partners should attend but they can still help if just one person attends.

Group therapy

Group therapy helps you find solutions to your problems by exploring them with other people and a therapist.

It's useful for people who share a common problem to get support and advice from each other.

Some people find that group therapy suits them better than individual therapy.

Behavioural activation

Behavioural activation helps you to take practical steps in your daily life to develop a more positive behaviour.

Mindfulness-based therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies help you focus on your thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed.

They can be used to help treat:

  • depression
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • addiction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) helps people learn how to cope with stress by combining:

  • meditation
  • gentle yoga
  • mind-body exercises

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines meditation and breathing exercises with cognitive therapy.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy focuses on your relationships with others, and on problems such as communication difficulties.

It involves exploring how your mood can influence the way you relate to people close to you.

Dialectical behaviour therapy

Dialectical behaviour therapy helps you to identify and manage intense emotions.

It focuses on balancing the need to become aware of, and accept things in life that you can’t change. While at the same time working on the things which you can change to improve your quality of life.

Accessing talking therapy

While some public services accept self-referrals, counselling and talking therapies are generally accessed through your GP or primary care team.

You do not need a referral for most private counsellors or therapists.

page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
next review due: 23/09/2021

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