Different Types of Therapy Explained (CBT, PCIT, SLP, ET, ABA)

By Alexis Takagi
October 14, 2022

Just like there are with physical illnesses, many different types of treatments exist to support a child with a learning or other neural difference. A mental health consultation and therapy can be an essential guide to help you navigate your child’s holistic needs. Although there is no single universal treatment that works for all, there are many different approaches that can help your child and family make progress and cope with emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. 

Treatment approaches vary from therapy, exercise, social support, education, and medication. Outlined below is a brief description of the available evidence-based psychotherapy inventions (that is to say, research-based interventions that have been selected by an experienced therapist to meet the individual needs and preferences of the child receiving them): 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a talk-based therapy that focuses on thoughts and emotions that impact mood and behaviors, as well as integrating tangible ways for children to empower themselves. During CBT, the therapist will guide the child to learn how to replace negative thought patterns with positive and productive ones through role-playing, journaling, and talking about alternative strategies to handle difficult situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help your child discover new perspectives and tools on how to approach challenges and learn coping techniques cognitively. In addition to acquiring new coping skills, CBT allows your child to improve their self-image and gain problem-solving skills. 

This type of therapy can range from play, such as arts and crafts, meditation, to talking through stressful situations to reframe thoughts from negative to positive. For example, a student may think a challenging math problem is a reflection of their academic ability and that their potential is predetermined. Therapists can reframe their thinking, so challenges are seen as beneficial and opportunities to grow. 

​What is Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT)? 

​Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is a short-term treatment that is designed to help families acquire specific skills that will strengthen their relationship with their child and build the parent’s ability to build confidence in directing the child’s behavior and re-establish positive feelings into interactions. A typical PCIT session has the parent(s) and children together participating in play, such as engaging with action figures or creative visualization, while a therapist observes through a two-way mirror and guides the parents’ discipline skills and interaction through an earpiece. Parents are subsequently coached one-on-one to further establish a specialized skill set that models what was practiced during the session. 

What is a Speech-Language Pathology (SLP)?

Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) is a treatment that aims to improve speech and language skills ranging from voice and sound production, fluency, comprehension, expression, and early language skills. A speech-language pathologist diagnoses and treats communication and swallowing problems, such as stuttering, when the flow of speech is interspersed between pauses. For children, the therapy sessions often involve reading stories and play, including language-based board games that integrate making inferences, problem solving, and social routines. SLP can offer numerous benefits to the child and their ability to comprehend and express ideas and improve school readiness by enhancing their fluency. 

What is Exposure Therapy (ET)? 

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavior therapy where the child is exposed to something that provokes feelings of anxiety. During ET, the child unlearns patterns of avoidance by working with the therapist to overcome fears and anxieties centered on the object or situation. ET works with the child and family to identify specific fears as well as techniques such as reasoning to assess the overestimation of the severity of the threat to gradually expose the child in controlled doses associated with the stimulus. Exposure therapy is an effective model for modifying the child’s thoughts and experiences from anxiety-provoking to establishing a feeling of neutrality and no sense of danger. ET is beneficial in treating anxiety disorders such as phobias and separation or social anxiety. 

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)? 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy integrates the science behind behavior and learning to 

increase and reinforce communication, social, learning, and fine motor skills. ABA therapy helps children by improving their social abilities such as completing tasks, implementing self-regulation, and teaching them the transferability of the skills to different challenges and environments. Treatment goals are established in collaboration with the therapist and are based on the age and behaviors being exhibited. 

Applied behavior analysis consists of two main components, including positive reinforcement and Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Model. Positive reinforcement refers to when the child reaches a goal behavior, established by the family and therapist before the sessions, and is rewarded by something of value to the child, such as a toy or book, whereas the ABC model works to understand what happens before a behavior occurs (antecedents), the behavior itself, and what happens after the behavior (consequences). The model helps children identify the harmful behavior, the triggers behind the behavior, and the effect it has on the child’s well-being and works to improve fundamental skills while decreasing unhealthy behaviors. 

What type of Therapy is Right for my Child?

Overall, there are many types of interventions and treatment options available to support the child’s specific needs that will promote their holistic well-being. It is recommended to contact your child’s healthcare provider to explore what option or combination of options is best suited to address your child’s needs and then curate a personalized plan with your child’s therapist. Not sure who to ask for help? We can recommend who to contact based on your child’s current needs and other factors. Please contact us for assistance.

About the Author

Alexis Takagi is an Educational Specialist at Learnfully, Inc specializing in English and mathematical tutoring. She is a doctoral candidate studying social justice leadership in higher education at Santa Clara University’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology, and currently researching how memorable messages (affirmations) about school impact academic retention and growth mindset.