Insight-Oriented Therapy – A Complete Guide (2024)

How well do you really know yourself?

Also known simply as insight therapy, this form of mental health psychotherapy treatment is a client-centered, therapeutic talk treatment that guides an individual toward developing an improved understanding of their inner workings.

During each session, the individual receiving counseling recalls situations from their life.

Let’s dive right into it.

The Main Goal Of Insight Oriented Therapy

Insight: The ability to acquire a new accurate awareness or learning about a thing or a person.

Insight-oriented psychotherapy helps clients understand how events in their past are negatively influencing their current thoughts, feelings, and unconscious behaviours. In this way, it helps to clarify your motivations.

Sigmund Freud began using insight therapy back in the early 1900s at the Psychoanalyst School of Psychology. He developed insight therapy using psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy.

Some of the techniques for use in this therapy are:

  • Free analysis
  • Dream association
  • Analyzing resistance
  • Analyzing transference
  • interpretation

Insight-oriented psychotherapy is traditional “talk” therapy that delves into how life events, desires, past and current relationships, and unconscious conflicts affect your feelings and contribute to anxiety. 

It can involve several different types of treatment as detailed below.

In order for insight oriented psychotherapy to help an individual, a relaxed and trusting rapport must be established between therapist and client. This allows for a therapeutic relationship. 

Otherwise, the client will be guarded about their deepest and most troubling issues, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

During treatment, you and your therapist will be focused to determine compromises you make to defend yourself against painful thoughts or emotions, then examine how they relate to your current distress.

While the duration of time with insight-oriented therapy can be open-ended, a variation called brief dynamic therapy or psychodynamic therapy, that is limited to a specific period (generally 12 to 20 weeks) is a therapeutic approach to use targeting generalized anxiety.

The way Insight-oriented psychotherapy works is with the assumption that the better you know yourself, the better you will function. It shows you that you have an internal world, and it interprets how that internal world operates.

It’s a process used to give you the awareness to help you understand your emotional process for coping with many various life experiences. You will learn practical ways and effective skills to use to overcome emotional and behavioral disorders. 

Most of all, it gives you freedom.

When you have freedom, you have power. A greater range of choices are available to you in any given situation or experience.

This awareness allows you to break free from old habits and patterns of behavior. It lets you choose new ones as you see fit.

The goal of insight-oriented therapy is freedom at the deepest level.

An Example Of Insight Therapy

In one example of insight-oriented psychotherapy in a specific case report, a nearly middle aged woman was having difficulty with her cancer treatment.

The therapist found that the treatments themselves were not the issue. This cancer patient was confusing her past, tumultuous and emotional family relationships with her current ones. Specifically speaking, with the doctors who were supposed to be treating her.

“Associations to the follow-up pelvic exams and second-look surgery (which was negative) reminded her of her father’s violation and denigration of women. She felt as though she was subjecting herself to yet another uncaring man who was out to hurt and humiliate a woman.”

It was ultimately these realizations that this patient came to, in her insight-oriented sessions, that allowed her to continue the cancer treatment.

Insight-Oriented Therapy
Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

The Three Main Insight Therapies

Psychologists normally draw on one or more theories of psychotherapy.

Any theory of insight therapy serves as a roadmap for psychologists. It guides them in the process of understanding clients and their problems, and developing effective practical solutions.

  1. Psychoanalysis 

While psychoanalysis is closely identified with Sigmund Freud, it has been extended and modified since his early formulations with a briefer analytic therapy. In part, through the work of Franz Gabriel Alexander, M.D., and Thomas Morton French, M.D., they developed Psychodynamic Therapy.

This type of insight oriented therapy delves deep into a client’s life experience and current unconscious thoughts, feelings and behaviours, believed to be the current cause of the client’s problems.

The therapist would then direct the patient to methods of avoiding any negative thought patterns and directing them towards more beneficial ways of thinking. By gaining a different perspective about their past, the patient may alleviate unconscious disorders in the present.

  1. Humanistic Therapy

This approach emphasizes a client’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. Concern and respect for others are also important themes.

Humanistic philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Buber and Søren Kierkegaard influenced this type of therapy.

Three types of humanistic therapy are especially influential to humanistic therapy.

  1. Client-Centered Therapy rejects the idea of therapists as authorities on their clients’ inner experiences. Instead, therapists help clients change by emphasizing their concern, care and interest for their emotional well being.
  1. Gestalt Therapy is based on what it calls “organismic holism,” the importance of being aware of the here and now and accepting responsibility for yourself.
  1. Existential Therapy focuses on free will, self-determination and the search for meaning.

        3. Integrative or Holistic Therapy

Integrative or holistic therapists don’t tie themselves to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each client’s needs. 

Is CBT Insight Oriented?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is used as an extension of Insight Oriented Psychotherapy.

Insight-oriented therapy sessions tend to be based on the idea that improving someone’s skills for understanding themselves, their actions, or the world around them, will promote positive change in their life. 

CBT, developed by Aaron Beck, confronts your behavior disorders in life head-on and helps you learn ways to change them.

For example, someone comes into the office to focus on depression. Over the course of several sessions, they realize that they always feel worse while working than anywhere else. Empowered by this realization, they find a new job, and their symptoms of depression diminishes.

Whereas, cognitive-behavioral therapies tend to be less concerned with meaning or insight, and more oriented toward the beliefs, thoughts, and behavioral issues that are present in the moment. 

So perhaps with the hypothetical depressed client, it is found they hold some deeply negative beliefs based on their ability to perform well in a job they enjoy.

A likely scenario for this client is that time is spent first talking about the depression and the job, to learn as much as we can about how they interconnect.

The next step would be to challenge those beliefs rationally by testing whether they also apply to a hobby or volunteer activity they enjoy. 

The realization that they do interconnect stimulates a desire for change. The client is held back by some negative beliefs about themself, as well as a high degree of anxiety about the new behaviors they’ll have to access, to change things.

In practice, both CBT and insight-oriented therapy are working together to some extent, whether or not the therapist may particularly identify with either of those broad therapies.

Therapy sessions may move between insight-oriented work, which helps to better understand whether this client’s existing approaches have been useful thus far. Then weaving in a more cognitive behavioral-oriented work, for support in finding replacement perspectives that work and are more beneficial.

Insight Therapy
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Benefits Of Insight-Oriented Psychotherapy

Insight-oriented psychotherapy can help clients understand the reasons for many behaviors including:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Insecurities
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Social and family relationships, etc.

There are four stages of focused awareness. Each one is just as important as the others, going through all four stages helps a client gain the awareness needed to improve their mental health.

  • Preparation: First, prepare to solve the problem by looking at all of the aspects. For example, if you are having trouble with your self-esteem, you may want to look at what may have happened.

Possibly a social setting, in the past that caused this. Some common triggers of low self-esteem include childhood abuse, bullying, neglect, and violence at home.

  • Incubation: After you best determine what may be the cause, you will need plenty of time to think about the problem. This period will include best possible solutions, brainstorming, what the goal is, and trial and error.
  • Illumination: This is the lightbulb moment. Like the lightbulb above a character’s head in various cartoons, it’s the “Aha” feeling when you realize the solution to the problem and wonder why you haven’t seen it before.
  • Verification: Even though you figured out the solution, this last step is necessary to know that your answer is correct. Especially important for a person with low self-esteem because they often tend to doubt themselves. Verification is so important for the client because they experience the results for themselves and they can finally say, “I am enough”

Psychotherapy can benefit your mental health by:

  • Creating a better self awareness encouraging skills for a growth orientation and an active attitude toward life
  • Giving you an appreciation of the importance of genuineness, unconditional regard, acceptance and empathy in dealing with others in a social setting or work environment
  • Learning to stifle or mute the critical voices in your head
  • Taking more responsibility for your own growth and life experiences, emphasizing a feeling of self empowerment
  • Recognizing the importance of exploring your feelings and sharing them with others

Insight Oriented Therapy Vs. Psychodynamic Therapy

Since Insight oriented psychotherapy is an indirect type of therapy letting you do most of the talking rather than having the therapist ask the questions and lead you to where they believe the issues might be.

Insight therapy is more like a friendly chat rather than a formal session, this can make many people often feel more comfortable. Even though it is still a form of psychotherapy, it lets you discover how your past influences your current actions and unconscious patterns of behavior.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a form of depth psychology. It is used as one of the insight oriented therapies.

It’s effective primary focus is to reveal the unconscious behaviors within the mind of an individual in an effort to best alleviate psychic tension or stress.

The interpretation of mental and emotional processes is involved, rather than focusing on behavior or problems because those are just the symptoms. A psychodynamic therapist will attempt to help clients find patterns in their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs in order to gain insight into their current behaviour.

Essentially, the experience of a therapist or counsellor can help people find the meaning in their suffering, so they can make different choices leading to greater freedom.

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” – Victor Frankl (1962)

By confronting our own vulnerabilities, we’re made aware of people and things that are truly important, rather than focusing on the bars in our mind that confine us.
If you enjoyed learning about insight-oriented therapy and its many benefits ✅, please forward this to someone you know who could find it helpful.

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.