What Is Insight-Oriented Therapy?

Woman talking to therapist.

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What Is Insight-Oriented Therapy?

The goal of insight-oriented therapy is to help clients understand how past experiences can affect their current behavior. Although insight-oriented therapy has several formulations, there are common elements. One of these elements is the concept of unconscious internal conflicts stemming from early life experiences.

These unresolved conflicts may cause problems in adulthood because they are hidden from conscious awareness. Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, low self-esteem, grief, depression, physical pain, sexual difficulties, loneliness, relationship difficulties, and difficulty adjusting to change may be signs that a client's problems stem from an internal conflict rather than poor circumstances or some other external factor.

It is the role of the therapist to help clients understand how their current life problems may be connected with this internal conflict, often by exploring the client's past experiences and identifying certain patterns or themes. The process can be speedy—occurring over a matter of days or months—or extremely lengthy depending on the patient's willingness to explore their emotions and memories.

Discomfort is not uncommon during therapy sessions as things might trigger negative feelings. As insight emerges, so does an increased understanding of one's own behavior. As clients gain understanding about themselves, they are also in a better position to change dysfunctional behaviors that have been causing them difficulties.

Insight-oriented therapy is a type of psychodynamic therapy, which means that it focuses on the psychological factors that influence behavior. This approach has been around for over 100 years and has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions.

Techniques of Insight-Oriented Therapy

Some of the techniques that may be used in insight-oriented therapy include the following:

  • Free association: This is a technique in which clients are encouraged to say whatever comes to mind, without censorship. This allows the therapist to gain a better understanding of the client's thoughts and feelings.
  • Dream interpretation: Dreams can provide insight into unconscious conflicts and memories that may be affecting behavior in the present. The therapist may encourage the client to talk about their dreams and even draw them, allowing the therapist to interpret what they might mean.
  • Exploration of the past: The therapist will encourage the client to talk about their childhood and any traumatic experiences that may have occurred. This can help to identify patterns or themes that may be affecting behavior in adulthood.
  • Interpretation of symptoms: Symptoms can provide clues about the underlying causes of problems. The therapist will work with the client to interpret these symptoms and understand how they might be related to unresolved conflicts from the past.
  • Use of metaphors: Metaphors can be helpful in conveying complex ideas in a way that is easier for clients to understand. The therapist may use metaphors to help explain how certain behaviors are related to internal conflicts.
  • Confrontation: In some cases, the therapist may need to confront the client about certain behaviors or beliefs. This is particularly true if the client is engaging in destructive behavior, such as substance abuse. The therapist will try to help the client understand why they feel the need to engage in this behavior and encourage them to find healthier ways of coping with difficult feelings or situations.
  • Psychoeducation: Insight-oriented therapy helps clients gain insight into their own emotions and motivations. However, just gaining this insight does not necessarily mean that it will translate into positive changes in behavior. Psychoeducation can be an important aspect of treatment because it provides a foundation for healthy behavior change. Clients may benefit from learning about how thoughts influence feelings and how actions are driven by unconscious thoughts and feeling states.

What Insight-Oriented Therapy Can Help With

Insight-oriented therapy may be helpful with a wide range of mental health conditions, including the following:

Anxiety and Depression

People who suffer from depression or anxiety sometimes experience feelings of inadequacy that may stem from problems in early life. Insight-oriented therapy can help clients to explore these issues and gain insight into how they came to believe such negative things about themselves.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, are sometimes associated with unconscious conflicts related to the desire for control. Participants in insight-oriented therapy can come to understand why they feel the need for such rigid control over their eating habits and how this relates to conflicts from the past. Insight-oriented therapy can help clients develop healthier ways of coping with these feelings.

Substance Abuse

Insight-oriented therapy can be a useful aid for those who wish to overcome addiction. Clients will come to understand the motivations behind using substances and therapists can work with them to find healthier alternatives for dealing with difficult emotions.    

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Insight-oriented therapy can be helpful for people living with PTSD, as it may help them to identify the underlying causes of their symptoms and guide them towards developing healthier ways of coping with triggers.


Insight-oriented therapy may be helpful for individuals struggling with psychosis, as it provides them an opportunity to gain insight into what might be triggering episodes and how they could come to terms with these issues.

Benefits of Insight-Oriented Therapy

Insight-oriented therapy can be a beneficial form of treatment for those who are willing to explore their thoughts and feelings in depth. It can help individuals to understand why they feel the way they do, identify any unhealthy patterns of behavior, and find healthier ways of coping with difficult emotions.

In addition, insight-oriented therapy can help people to develop a better understanding of themselves and their place in the world. This increased self-awareness can lead to positive changes in both personal and professional relationships.


While there has not been an abundance of research on insight-oriented therapy, there is some evidence that incorporating insight into therapy is an important agent for change.

For example, a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the relationship between insight and outcomes after psychotherapy demonstrated the importance of insight during the therapeutic process.

Things to Consider

Insight-oriented therapy can be a powerful tool for self-discovery, but it is not right for everyone. There are a few things to consider before beginning this type of therapy:

  • Are you willing to explore your thoughts and feelings in depth? If you are not prepared to delve into the root of your problems, insight-oriented therapy may not be right for you. This type of therapy requires a great deal of introspection and willingness to face difficult truths about oneself.
  • Is it safe for you to discuss sensitive topics with your therapist? In order for insight-oriented therapy to be effective, it is necessary for clients to feel safe discussing their thoughts and feelings with their therapist. If there are any topics that you feel uncomfortable discussing, it is important to communicate this to your therapist.
  • Are you prepared to make changes in your behavior? In order for insight-oriented therapy to be successful, it is often necessary for clients to make changes in their behavior. If you are not willing or able to make these changes, the therapy may not be effective.
  • Will you commit to attending regular sessions? In order for insight-oriented therapy to be effective, it is important for clients to attend regular sessions. If you are unable to commit to a regular schedule, this type of therapy may not be right for you.

How to Get Started

If you are wondering how to get started with insight-oriented therapy, here are a few tips:

  1. Talk to your therapist about whether this approach is right for you. It is important to discuss whether insight-oriented therapy is the right fit for you. If you think that this approach may be beneficial, let your therapist know.
  2. Ask your therapist about their training and experience with this approach. In order to ensure that you are working with a qualified therapist, ask about their training and experience with insight-oriented therapy.
  3. Do your research. Take the time to learn as much as you can about this approach before beginning treatment.

A Word From Verywell

If you are considering seeking therapy, it is important to consider which approach would be most appropriate for you. Not everyone is suited for this type of therapy. In addition, it is important that you ask your therapist about their experience with this type of therapy to ensure that you will be working with a qualified professional. If you are able to make the commitment to attend regular sessions and are willing to make changes in your behavior, insight-oriented therapy may be the right fit for you.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Solano P, Quagelli L. On "free associative activities"Psychoanal Rev. 2015;102(2):237-264. doi:10.1521/prev.2015.102.2.237

  4. Tursi MF, Baes Cv, Camacho FR, Tofoli SM, Juruena MF. Effectiveness of psychoeducation for depression: a systematic review. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2013;47(11):1019-1031. doi:10.1177/0004867413491154

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By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.