a therapist explaining the difference between traditional psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy

Traditional Psychotherapy vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

therapist treats patient for mental health issuesAre you looking for psychotherapy or counselling in Ottawa?

Do you find yourself in the midst of a lengthy & time-consuming process, researching different types of therapy as well as therapists and counsellors in Ottawa?

Have you ever heard of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Also known as “CBT,” cognitive therapy is a modern method of counselling that differs in many ways from traditional psychotherapy or talk therapy.

Each has its merits.

Which is right for you, CBT or psychotherapy?

That’s what we’ll delve into, in this edition of the Capital Choice Counselling Ottawa blog.

Traditional Psychotherapy: Talk Therapy to Treat Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Health Issues

man contemplating whether or not he should get psychotherapyIf you have an image of therapy as a patient sitting (or lying) on a couch, talking about his or her past with a therapist (who might be responding with the proverbial, “very interesting”), that is psychotherapy.

Not to say that it’s a wholly accurate picture of psychotherapy today, but that’s the image that many of us have – especially from references in movies and television.

Psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy,” is an umbrella of mental health treatment methods, all of which involve the traditional interaction of a therapist encouraging the patient to talk about his or her life, the issues being faced and the possible source(s) of said issues.

Within psychotherapy are a variety of therapy types. These include:


Let’s take a look at a couple of these more common forms of psychotherapy.

Psychodynamic Therapy – The Oldest & Most Established Form of Modern Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapytherapist treats patient for mental health issues with psychotherapy focuses on unconscious processes that are manifested in the patient’s life through behaviour, thoughts and action.

Although Freudian psychoanalysis is a subset of psychodynamic therapy, it would not be wrong to associate Freud with psychodynamic therapy.

This is the traditional kind of analysis discussed earlier, the image many people have of a doctor or therapist analyzing the thoughts of the patient, delving into his or her past to find the source of what is now causing obstacles.

Within psychodynamic therapy today, you’ll find that the approach to therapy and treatment can and does vary quite a bit from one therapist to another.

Psychodynamic therapy is a proven method of treating mental illness and emotional issues, with over a century of therapy practice, academic research and writing. It is utilized by therapists to treat:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorders
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Physical ailments/symptoms
  • Personality disorders (e.g. borderline personality disorder)


What are some of the pros and cons of psychodynamic therapy?

couple in a traditional psychotherapy session

There is, in fact, minimal risk to psychodynamic therapy.

The one downside, as viewed by some, is that it can be a prolonged process. It can take several sessions to establish the patient’s present issues and past sources, etc.; then many more sessions, sometimes up to a year or more, to work trough the issues and make breakthroughs.

The upside is that psychodynamic therapy is a time-honoured method that has proved to be successful for millions of patients.

This form of psychotherapy is still widely in use, due to its efficacy and positive response.

Couple’s Therapy & Family Counselling

While couple’s therapy, marriage counselling and family counselling might seem different in that they are treating two or more people in the same session, psychotherapy methods are often at the root of the treatment.

The core principles of talk therapy are indeed taking place during group therapy, be that a family counselling session or couple’s therapy session.

What’s different is the group dynamic.

The therapist or counsellor is delving into the individual lives of each person in the group, and at the same time is analyzing the interaction of the couple or the family.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – A Modern Method That Focuses on Changing Negative Thoughts into Positive Behaviour

a therapist using the cognitive behavioural therapy approach with their clientCognitive Behavioural Therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a more hands-on method of therapy.

Rather than delve into the past or go into extensive talk therapy sessions, like psychotherapy does, CBT is a more compressed series of therapy sessions that hones in quickly on the patient’s negative thoughts and attitudes, making the connection between these thoughts and the behaviour of the patient.

Once the negative thoughts are identified, CBT works to eliminate these thoughts and focus instead on positive behaviour – the operating theory being that positive behaviour leads to positive thoughts, creating a virtuous circle.

CBT is gaining in popularity due to the shorter time period involved in delivering results. Therapists who specialize in cognitive behavioural therapy treat patients for emotional and mental health issues such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic disorder
  • PTSD
  • Phobias
  • OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)

… and many other conditions.

Types of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

When it comes to therapy, there is no one size fits all answer. What is effective for someone else may not be effective for you. With Capital Choice Counselling, you can choose a therapist who is a good fit for you by doing some study to understand the many styles of treatment, even though it could feel overwhelming. In fact, one of the best indicators of excellent therapy outcomes is the patient-therapist relationship. Common types of CBT include:

Behavioural therapy: This type of therapy makes use of behavioural strategies to modify or change behaviour in order to achieve better results.

Cognitive therapy: By challenging thoughts, this type of therapy improves behaviour and mood.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) : This is a type of CBT that helps to regulate emotions. People with borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and PTSD are among the conditions it is frequently used to treat. It imparts new skills to enable individuals to take personal responsibility for altering undesirable or disruptive behaviour. In general, it seeks to support people in being more present, handling stress better, and regulating their emotions.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: This type of CBT combines traditional CBT methods discussed above with mindful and meditative practices to achieve patient goals.

Exposure and Response Prevention: With this type of CBT therapy, fears are repeatedly faced in order to learn how to stop compulsive or avoidant behaviours, such as those connected to OCD.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The goal of this type of therapy is to help patients accept their ideas and feelings rather than resisting them or harbouring intense shame or guilt. This is frequently paired with techniques used in mindfulness-based therapy.


happy woman at sunriseWhat are the pros and cons of cognitive behavioural therapy?

One downside is not unlike psychotherapy: During the initial CBT sessions, a person will have to confront some negative thoughts, which could bring up memories of trauma, uncomfortable emotions, etc.

The benefits of cognitive therapy are many. Not only is it a rather effective means of therapy or counselling for a wide range of mental health issues, CBT cuts to the quick and saves a good deal of time (and money) for many patients.

Which is Right for You: CBT or Psychotherapy?

At Capital Choice Counselling, Ottawa’s leading network of therapists and counsellors, we offer both cognitive behavioural therapy and traditional psychotherapy.

CBT has great appeal for a number of people. If you’re looking to spend less time in therapy, you could find great results with CBT.

Other clients choose psychotherapy as they are more comfortable with the talk therapy concept. There are also more complex disorders that CBT doesn’t address fully.

Whichever method of therapy you decide you want to pursue, we are here to help.

Click on the ‘Our Counsellors by Expertise’ link on the menu at the top of this page, then choose the area of expertise and find a counsellor from there.

Meet Our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Counsellors