Evidence-based counseling techniques and approaches


Awareness of the need to protect, heal, or revitalize your mental health is now widespread. It is just as important as our instinctive actions to prevent or treat physical issues.

Though regular, healthy habits are good for you, there are also times when you need extra help with your mental health and emotional balance. That’s when access to qualified professional counselors can prove vital.

This is particularly true of counselors who can draw on various evidence-based counseling approaches. After all, everyone’s needs are individual to them, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ method of improving your mental health.

Anyone training to become a mental health counselor will likely receive training in the knowledge and skills of several evidence-based counseling techniques to make their interventions personal for each patient. However, they may choose to specialize in one approach that has proven effective.

What sort of evidence-based counseling approaches are there?

What does ‘evidence-based’ mean?

First, it is important to understand what is meant by evidence-based. 

This term tells you that the therapy has been thoroughly evaluated and found to be effective in meeting the needs of a considerable number of patients. It is also one that is cost-effective and practical to use. Of course, data is used to evaluate the therapy, but anecdotal views from patients are also considered regarding whether their therapy goals were met.

The term evidence-based does not guarantee that it will suit you, it just an indication that it is not a recent phase, fad, or unproven craze.

You may find that some of the counseling techniques it includes sound quite similar. Over time, qualified professional counselors, psychologists, and researchers have developed variations on proven techniques, especially talking therapies, to ensure they genuinely match individual patient aims.

A professional in the mental health sector decides which proven technique or therapy to try based on insight gained through earning qualifications in counseling, such as a Mental Health Counselor Degree Online. While studying a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling remotely with a reputable institution such as the American International College, one of the skills you would study is systems and theories in counseling and psychology. Learning and discussion will take you right back to the ancient roots of some types of therapy and will show you the evolution of evidence-based theories.

The main evidence-based counseling approaches

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This approach focuses on the close connections between our thought processes, emotions and behaviors. Cognitive refers to the mental action of gathering and analyzing our knowledge and understanding of actions, experiences, and input from our senses, which affects our behavior.

CBT is considered especially effective in tackling mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and addiction. It seeks to explore the connections your mind creates and retrain you to react and think differently. The counselor guides the patient toward developing positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

This can be provided as a one-to-one therapy or delivered in a group setting. 

You will often find CBT is combined with other synergic approaches, too, such as Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET), where the patient is supported in finding goals that inspire them and motivational reasons to find and use effective coping strategies.

Cognitive therapy and behavior therapy 

Sometimes, these two aspects — our thought processes, emotions, and actions — are separated to improve mental health.

In cognitive therapy, a therapist might use a pastime that a patient finds rewarding, which may put them in a positive mood, such as walking outdoors, as the basis for conversation. It is sometimes used for those with depression to re-engage them with something they enjoy.

Mindfulness and meditation are also types of cognitive therapy that focus on living in the present to gain temporary relief from things that cause depression or anxiety. 

On the other hand, behavior therapy focuses on potentially unhealthy or harmful behaviors and aims to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to manage those actions. This is sometimes used to address eating disorders and other forms of self-harm.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) 

This approach is based on CBT, but dialectical behavior therapy has been developed to counsel patients who are experiencing extreme emotions, including suicidal thoughts. 

Like many versions of talking therapy, a professional counselor helps patients discuss and understand how they are feeling. The goal is for the individual to find sustainable ways of managing their emotions and maintaining a more positive outlook.

Humanistic and person-centered therapy

In its simplest form, this counseling approach is based on the concept that we all have an inherent desire and capability to achieve healing and positive growth. The counselor helps each patient self-actualize their own recovery by finding personal discoveries and solutions. 

It can be valuable for patients with low self-esteem, confidence issues, and body dysmorphia, as they are helped to find self-regulation and control their mood and outlook. 

Psychoanalytic counseling

Sometimes, our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are unconsciously motivated. Psychoanalytic counseling was developed by Sigmund Freud, and it uses dream analysis and free association to reveal these unconscious motivations.

Evidence-based therapies for specific needs

There are many more variations in therapy that can be used to address mental health needs and relationship problems. There are also methods specifically developed to address medical issues such as autism. This is often supported by an approach called applied behavior analysis, which focuses on finding practical and achievable ways of performing social, communication, academic, and daily living tasks.

While evidence-based therapies used by contemporary counselors can be adjusted to an individual or group counseling session, some approaches can even be taught to the patient so they can self-manage their mental health issues.

There are also times when a professional counselor may apply one or a mix of these techniques to support a family therapy session. This is usually aimed at exploring challenging relationships and finding positive and sustainable improvements.


Matching the correct approach, or a blend of therapies, to the needs of individual patients is a skill that professional counselors develop through specialized training. This enables them to identify the therapy with the highest likelihood of success, which can then be adjusted to address the current needs and goals of individuals or groups.