What Is Multimodal Therapy?

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Multimodal therapy (MMT) is a type of holistic approach to psychotherapy, usually involving several therapeutic techniques or approaches at once. In other words, the focus tends to be on treating the whole person rather than focusing too narrowly on specific symptoms. It is also called "eclectic therapy" or "integrative psychotherapy." Multi-modal therapy was developed by psychologist Arnold Lazarus in the 1960s when he noticed that clients would benefit from using more than one type of therapy at a time.

The word “modality” means simply a method of treatment. What this usually refers to are different types of therapeutic approaches, each of which might focus on a different aspect of the person's life. It can also mean combining pharmacotherapy, which is the use of medication, with psychotherapy or counseling.

Types of Multimodal Therapy

A variety of different types of treatments may be employed in multimodal therapy. Below is a list of some of the most common types of therapy that may be used concurrently in a multimodal therapy treatment program.

  • Cognitive Therapy: This type of psychotherapy focuses on the patient’s thoughts and beliefs as being central to their psychological problems or symptoms, rather than focusing on childhood experiences or current events as the cause.
  • Behavior Therapy: Behavior therapy focuses on observable behaviors rather than on internal feelings or thoughts, which can be difficult to directly observe. It has been criticized for ignoring unconscious processes that may influence behavior. However, it is an extremely well-researched treatment, with a long history of being effective when combined with cognitive therapy.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis, which is sometimes called "depth psychology," attempts to understand the unconscious mind and how those memories and experiences may influence thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. It has been used as a form of talk therapy for many years with some evidence it can be effective, although it is relatively slow-going compared to other types of psychotherapy.
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT): This type of therapy, developed by Dr. Albert Ellis, is based on the view that people’s emotions and behaviors can be influenced by their beliefs about themselves and others, which may not always be accurate. The therapist helps the patient develop a more rational view of themself in order to improve emotional responses and reduce problematic behavior.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): The goal of DBT, which is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, is to help the patient develop better emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills. This form of treatment was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, although it has been shown to be efficacious in treating other disorders as well.
  • Emotion-focused couples therapy: Some couples may benefit from treatment that focuses on the emotional aspects of their relationship, which can help them to communicate more effectively and create a deeper connection.
  • Existential psychotherapy: When patients feel alienated or disconnected from themselves or others, existential psychotherapy can be helpful in helping them find meaning in life. It often centers around the idea that each person creates his or her own meaning and purpose.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): This type of therapy helps patients explore the interactions between their mood and interpersonal relationships, especially within a social context. It can be used to identify difficulties that may contribute to mental health issues and teach skills for resolving interpersonal problems.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT is a type of therapy based on the idea that psychological and emotional difficulties occur when people don’t accept their experiences, resist participating in life or detach from others. Through this form of treatment, patients learn to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings without struggling against them or avoiding them entirely.
  • Relaxation training: Relaxation training through techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can reduce stress and anxiety and help people to feel more peaceful. These approaches might involve the help of a therapist or they may be self-directed.
  • Social skills training (SST): SST is a type of behavior therapy that focuses on improving social interactions through the use of role-playing exercises, social stories, feedback, and reinforcement among other things to treat problems with communication.
  • Behavioral activation (BA): When people feel unable to experience pleasure or find satisfaction in things they used to enjoy, it can be very difficult for them to lead a fulfilling life. An important part of treatment for depression is helping the patient recover lost interest and motivation, which is often best accomplished with behavioral activation techniques that are designed to increase opportunities for pleasurable or rewarding experiences.

Techniques of Multimodal Therapy

MMT is a type of treatment that uses several different approaches to increase the likelihood that behavior change will take place. As such, the techniques that are used in MMT are drawn from a wide variety of cognitive, behavioral, and psychodynamic strategies.

What Multimodal Therapy Can Help With

Multimodal therapy can be used in the treatment of emotional and psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism spectrum disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, and psychotic symptoms.

Multimodal therapy can also be used to address a number of physical conditions that have a psychological component or cause, such as pain, fatigue, and insomnia.

Benefits of Multimodal Therapy

Below are some of the specific potential benefits of multimodal therapy:

  • MMT can have an effect on a wide range of conditions.
  • Patients may respond more quickly to treatment that utilizes several different techniques at once.
  • Therapists are able to focus treatment on the issues that are most relevant to the patient's condition and experience by utilizing interventions from different modalities rather than just one.
  • MMT is often more cost-effective than other treatment options, especially when it comes to treating patients who have multiple mental or physical conditions that could be addressed through several different types of therapies.
  • Patients often feel more satisfied with their treatment if they are able to choose the specific techniques that will be best for them rather than engaging in treatment that is imposed by a therapist.
  • Using techniques from different modalities can help to increase the patient's motivation for recovery because they are able to take more control over their treatment process.

Effectiveness of Multimodal Therapy

The effectiveness of MMT can vary depending on how it is implemented; however, research indicates that multimodal therapy is likely to be effective for many different conditions including depression and anxiety.

The success of the treatment will depend on how well the therapist is able to combine methods in a way that makes sense for the patient and their unique needs.

Things to Consider

The disadvantages of MMT include the following:

  • There is a risk that therapists will not use techniques from all modalities or that they will miss an approach that could contribute substantially to the patient's treatment.
  • Therapists must have a broad range of knowledge and experience with many different psychological approaches to be able to utilize them effectively together.
  • Research is still limited on the benefits of MMT, so it may be difficult for therapists to know what techniques will work best together or for which patients.
  • Patients who are not open to using multiple approaches at once may not benefit as much from MMT.

How to Get Started With Multimodal Therapy

If you are interested in starting multimodal therapy, ask your therapist whether they typically use techniques from different modalities or if they prefer to focus on one approach at a time. You may also want to explore the approach that they favor so you can decide if it will be most beneficial for you.

If you do not have a therapist yet or if you would like to try MMT in addition to the approach that your current therapist is using, do some research and speak to a few therapists before making a decision.

Be open with any potential therapist about what types of techniques you would or would not want to use, and let them know how important it is for you to be able to choose the approach that feels best to you.

If the therapist is not open to discussing different types of therapy or does not seem well-equipped to use techniques from several modalities together, then you may want to consider finding someone else.

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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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.