Insight Therapy (Definition + Examples)

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Practical Psychology

Why do you make the decisions you make? Why do you behave the way you do? How do your experiences influence the way that you see the world and think about yourself? These are some big questions, and it’s okay if you don’t have the answers. Everyone is on their own journey to unveil these answers for themselves. Guiding them along the way, oftentimes, is insight therapy. 

Think of insight therapy as an umbrella term for what many people know today as “talk therapy.” There are many different approaches to insight therapy, but all have the same general goal. If you have questions about your thought patterns, motivation, or the impact of past events on your current life, insight therapy might be a great way to improve your life and mental health. 

What Is Insight Therapy?

Insight therapy is any form of psychotherapy where therapists and clients use discussion to gather insights regarding the client’s motivations, behaviors, and thought patterns. Therapists may use different approaches to therapy to bring these insights out, but the goal is the same. 

Who Developed Insight Therapy? 

Insight therapy can be traced back to Sigmund Freud. Freud used psychoanalysis on patients to help them discover what was happening in their unconscious minds. Psychoanalysis is not a popular practice in 2022, but therapists still use many forms of insight therapy.

What Is Insight Therapy Used For?

  • Understanding negative thoughts 
  • Breaking free from or identifying biases
  • Identifying negative patterns of behavior
  • Managing symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Managing symptoms of PTSD 
  • Uncovering past memories
  • Processing grief or trauma
  • Moving through large life changes 
  • Facing fears
  • Setting goals and boundaries 

You do not have to have a mental illness or feel incredibly distressed to want or use insight therapy. Insight therapy can be used, for example, to cope with the pressures of the world. A teenager may use insight therapy to discover how to best come out to their parents. A CEO may use insight therapy to navigate difficult conversations with their team or their family members. Students and teachers can use insight therapy. Mothers can use insight therapy to process the changes that come with having children. Children can use insight therapy to process past experiences with their mothers. A person can work with therapists throughout many years of their life to achieve certain goals. 

Maybe you don’t have a goal, but you would like to try insight therapy. That’s okay, too! A therapist can work with you to discuss what is happening in your life and where the conversation could go. Or, you could lead the conversation! Depending on the type of insight therapy your therapist provides, you may be able to steer the conversation in one of many directions and explore many things about your mind, memories, and behavior.

Types of Insight Therapy

  • Psychoanalysis
  • CBT
  • Client-Centered Therapy 
  • Existential Therapy
  • Group Therapy 
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Adlerian Therapy  


Insight therapy began with psychoanalysis. Freud believed he could help his patients overcome mental disorders by taking a look into their unconscious minds. Within the unconscious mind, he suggested, people would find conflicts between the id, the ego, and the superego. 

Freud also believed that early interactions with parents could lead to mental disorders or different personality traits. As young boys grew up, for example, they grew attached to their mothers and had to control their aggression toward their fathers. Freud believed that through talk therapy, word association, and dream interpretation, he could find out just what was going on and what experiences lead to the reasons the patient had for pursuing psychoanalysis. 

A lot of Freud’s work has been contested or questioned, but one thing is certain: his influence on insight therapy is unmatched. Many forms of insight therapy stemmed from the ideas of psychoanalysis, even if they seem radically different. 


Psychologist Aaron T. Beck studied psychoanalysis, but as he used this approach to treat patients, he found that the conscious mind played a bigger role in depression than the unconscious mind. As he continued to treat patients and study the conscious mind, he developed cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT is arguably the most popular approach to insight therapy used today.

Therapists that use CBT will ask clients to recall some troubling experiences or situations in their life. They look at the thoughts that surround those negative experiences. Together, they identify any patterns that may be influencing bad behaviors or emotions. As the client gets to know their own patterns of thinking, they can replace them with more positive patterns of thinking that lead to more positive behaviors. 

Client-Centered Therapy 

Therapists who use the client-centered therapy approach allow their clients to lead the conversation. What do they want to talk about? What decisions will they make? This approach was founded by Carl Rogers. One crucial tenant of this approach is Unconditional Positive Regard. With this mindset, a therapist never judges their client or shoots down their ideas. Clients who have had reservations about therapy before may want to look for a therapist that uses this approach. 

Existential Therapy

Some people go to therapy to deal with everyday issues. Maybe they are fighting with their partner or they want to process tough memories with their parents. Other people are more worried about the “big picture.” They might ask a therapist, “Why are we here in the first place?” rather than asking, “What do I do about work?” These clients will benefit from existential therapy. 

Existential therapy is similar to most other talk therapy approaches, but it includes an additional element. In existential therapy, the therapist and client work through big questions about existence, purpose, and human nature. 

Group Therapy 

If the idea of a one-on-one session with a therapist intimidates you, try group therapy! Group therapy is a type of insight therapy that takes place with multiple clients at once. Some clients only use group therapy, while others attend a mix of individual and group therapy sessions. 

Group therapy can be a great way to try out insight therapy without feeling the pressure of opening up to a therapist as an individual. In group therapy, you will be asked to share, but you will be able to hear the answers of other people, too. As you hear them opening up about their feelings and thought patterns, you may realize that you have common issues or conflicts. 

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy also stemmed from psychoanalysis, but it doesn’t look at the unconscious mind or traumatic events that happened in the past. Instead, gestalt therapists look at the present moment. They look at a client’s environment and how that environment is influencing the client’s motivations or behaviors. Clients may go through role-playing exercises or repeat certain behaviors in order to tune into their emotions and how they connect with certain thoughts. This may not be a widely popular approach, but it could be a new way to look at therapy if you’re interested in trying something new. 

Adlerian Therapy 

Alfred Adler was a colleague of Sigmund Freud. He disagreed with many elements of psychoanalysis and created his own approach to talk therapy. Adlerian therapy goes through four stages: engagement, assessment, insight, and reorientation. Together, the therapist and client create goals regarding the client’s behavioral changes, gather insight based on the client’s thought patterns and behavior, and create active strategies to implement positive change. If you are looking for a short-term approach to therapy, you may want to explore Adler’s ideas. 

Does Insight Therapy Work?  

As you can see, there are many ways to approach insight therapy. What works for one person may not work for another person! The best way to find out which therapy works for you is:

  • Consider your goals
  • Talk to friends and family who have seen therapists
  • Do some research on local therapists before booking a call
  • Try a 15- to 20-minute free consultation with therapists…most offer them!

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, October). Insight Therapy (Definition + Examples). Retrieved from

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