Five Main Counseling Theories, Compared

Counseling Theories
Comparison Chart
CognitiveFaulty, irrational thinkingCorrecting ThoughtsConsultation with expert 
BehavioralFaulty habits, instinctsCorrecting Habits Consultation with expert
Cognitive-behavioralFaulty habits, thoughtsCorrecting habits + thoughtsConsultation with expert
PsychoanalyticPersonality DissociationAssociation, reintegrationFree association under supervision
HumanisticInauthenticitySelf-actualizationOne-on-one or group conversations

I made the above spreadsheet on my computer as a resources for my counseling and advanced psychology students. I hope it provides a sense for what each specialization might provide. These haven't been listed in any particular order. More detailed descriptions are provided below. 

How Each Theory Would Handle Insomnia (Trouble getting restful sleep)

Are you sure you're not getting restful sleep? Might you be misinterpreting feelings as fatigue when really it's allergies, poor nutrition, boredom, etc? You might believe you need 8 hours of sleep, when in reality your body and daily activity only requires 6. What if you were to change your understanding of what qualifies as adequate sleep?  

With behavioral changes, you are manipulating your bodily rhythms and habits. You do this by shaping the environment you are in in order to reprogram the physiological/behavioral processes in your body.

If you have trouble falling asleep:
  • don't ingest caffeine within 10 hours of bedtime
  • don't eat within 3 hours of bedtime
  • don't look at blue screens within 30 minutes of bedtime
  • don't do anything in bed except sleep (no lounging around on your bed)
  • don't nap during the day
  • do something that makes you sleepy (e.g. read) within 30 minutes of bedtime
  • do ingest something to assist in feelings of sleepiness (melatonin, herbal tea) within 30 minutes of bedtime.
If you have trouble staying asleep:
  • don't wait around in bed watching the time tick by. Get up. Only return when you are tired.
  • don't look at screens
  • don't expose yourself to bright or UV light
  • do something that makes you naturally sleepy (e.g., read)
  • do evaluated if maybe you don't need any more sleep (maybe you're ready to go for the day)
  • do take note if anything in your daily schedule has changed (maybe you're working more/less)
With cognitive-behavioral therapy, you are following the behavioral recommendations, but you also understand that mental states can influence bodily states (and vice a versa).

This would be identical to the behavioral suggestions, but it would also include activities where thoughts have been known to influence the body. For example, breathing exercises can help calm the body down and lead to sleep. Focusing on pleasant thoughts (instead of worrying about tomorrow or today) can help your body relax. In other words, behavioral changes PLUS cognitive changes.

Psychoanalysts would very much want to know what you are thinking about when you are not sleeping. They would also assume that whatever is distracting you is rooted somewhere in your past, and it probably linked to some essential disappointment from childhood.

"I'm not sleeping, because I know that sleep is for beautiful princes and princesses, and I am a monstrous ogre. Therefore I don't deserve to sleep."


"I can't sleep because I'm too busy trying to make sure my life is perfect because I'm actually this big huge mess of a person and if I'm not constantly making little tiny improvements all over the place then my world will come crashing down and everyone will see how much of a failure I am."

The humanistic therapist is the one out of the group that doesn't assume they have the best answer. The process is led by the client, and today the client wants to talk about trouble sleeping. The humanistic therapist wonders (to themselves) if the problem really isn't something else unrelated to sleep, but lets the client talk about how tired they are. Listening sympathetically.

"It sounds to me like you're tired."
"Do you feel tired right now?"
"What does that feel like?"
    "Uh, I dunno. Tired. Like, um, my eyelids are heavy."
"Ah. You just want to let your heavy eyelids close. Let go."
    "Yeah. That would be nice. But I can't. There's always too much to do..."
And so on.


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