Mental Health Theories (List)

This article gives a brief idea of Mental Health Theories, their historical perspectives, models and methods.

It will also highlight different mental health counselling theories and popular mental health theories used worldwide.

At last, we’ll be focusing on the different mental health theories which have been proposed for well-being.


Mental Health Theories are more than just facts, they are developed after rigorous observations of human beings, researches are done in so many years and testing with different age groups and in different cultures.

Even then not all theories are approved by the experts and still, there are always controversies lying with some of the theories.

The theories developed so far, which we study still are categorised into 6 categories and they are- Analytical, Behavioral, Cognitive, Social, Humanistic and Personality.

Historical Perspectives on the Theories:

When we talk about the history of mental theories, earlier the idea of mental illness was derived from the supernatural causes and demonic possessions and then it was the early 20th century which proposed a new era for mental disorders.

This is the era when the mental disorders were taken into account as unique and difficult diseases and then is when psychodynamic and behavioural theories were introduced.

And with this acceptance of mental illness phenomena official diagnostic classification systems were adopted which led to again numerous researches, modern treatment methods including medications and psychotherapy.

Psychodynamic Theory by Austrian Neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) focused on the unresolved unconscious motives and should be treated from catharsis and different open dialogue treatment methods.

Whereas, Behavioural Theory by American Psychologist John B. Watson (1878-1958), focused on the effects of behavioural conditioning and should be treated with adaptive reconditioning.

The first edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was created in 1952 (post Second World War), which was largely drawn from WHO’s the sixth edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-6).

In the mid 20th century, the field of psychotherapy which had its roots in Freud’s psychodynamic theory, also developed.

American Psychologist Albert Ellis and American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck began adopting treatment approaches which were aimed at underlying cognitive and emotional mental disorders.

And when this has collaborated with behavioural theory, the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy developed. 


The different models from which a mental health professional learn about mental health are-

  • Biological Model-

The only model which is not focused on psychological principles but is based on brain neuroanatomy and biochemicals.

This is basically focused on the concept of “no blame” on the individuals for having a mental illness or disorder, but the neurotransmitters which are responsible for the condition of the patient.

Many psychologists criticise psychiatry for just focusing on the drugs and not on the underlying factors that might also be possible.

And it has been viewed in years that the patients who were on medications if suddenly has been out of medications their symptoms reoccur or even increases.

  • Behavioural Model-

The behavioural model focuses on the environment of the individual, it is assumed that the acquired maladaptive behaviour is from one’s environment.

Therefore, to work with model one need to first identify the main cause of disruptive or dysfunctional behaviour.

The therapies which are common to use under this model are aversion therapy and systematic desensitisation.

This model focuses on adaptive or maladaptive behaviour rather on “ill” or “abnormal”.

Well, behaviourists have some success in treating certain disorders but it has also been seen that the effects are not long-lasting in some disorders.

  • Cognitive Model-

This model focuses on the cognitive distortions or the dysfunctions in the thought processes.

It is one of the dominant models in academic psychology since the 1970s and it is focused on the perception, attention, memory and problem-solving methods.

In treating disorders, this model is quite similar to the behavioural model with a key difference in teaching the patient to think differently rather than behave differently.

One of the main treatments of this model is Rational Emotive Therapy which primarily focuses on activating event causes the change in the pattern of thoughts.

Psychologists usually combine cognitive and behavioural models to treat patients.

  • Psychodynamic Model-

It is based on the work of Sigmund Freud and is based on the principles that mental illness are derived from the repressed emotions and thoughts from the experiences in the past (usually childhood).

The main treatment to cure mental illness under this model is the free association in which the patient speaks whatever he wants and the psychologists interpret when the trouble areas occur.


There are two diagnostic criteria manuals- DSM and ICD which is used worldwide for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and the treatment methods include medications, psychotherapeutic interventions, brain-stimulation, hospitalization and substance use treatment or rehabilitation.

The therapeutic interventions can take place either in individual therapy, couple therapy, group therapies or family therapy.


There are schools of thoughts on which the counselling theories depends and they are-


Some psychologists prefer this because of the present-focused nature of the therapy. Behaviour therapy is focused on changing the behaviour pattern which according to the psychologists are a result of life experiences and not the unconscious mind.

It includes operant conditioning, classical conditioning and modelling.


Psychodynamic therapists also view behaviour as a result of experiences like behavioural therapists with the key difference here is that their focus is on past experiences.

Freud focussed on id, ego and super-ego and according to him, there are some adjustments that are required in them in order to treat the patient and so do the therapists believe.

They believe that the unconscious mind drives people’s behaviour.

In this therapy process, the client and therapist revisit to the past experiences to get a clear picture and thus treats the illness. It may take many sessions.


The focus of the therapists who follow this model focuses on thinking and not doing.

In this therapeutic treatment, the therapist focuses on the cognitive distortions and focuses on changing the thinking patterns and this leads to eventually changing in feelings and behaviour.


Client-centred therapy by Carl Rogers, Gestalt therapy which is focused on Present and Existential therapy are three main humanistic approaches by the therapists.

In this, the therapist creates an environment of empathy, acceptance, and genuineness. 

Mental Health theories are vast and everybody has different and unique approaches towards treating mental illness.

The above-mentioned schools of thoughts derive different theories and sometimes even the combination of one or two schools work with the therapists.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)- 

It is derived from combining cognitive and behavioural mental theories and is focused on changing destructive thoughts and behaviours.

This is a goal-oriented approach and therefore involves homework.

Operant Conditioning-

It is focussed on reinforcements if the patient achieves the targeted goal, he is the rewarded else faces punishment.

This helps in changing the goal by changing the routine and sometimes changing the rewards.

Exposure Therapy-

It is a form of operant conditioning and it focusses on provoking the anxiety of the patient in a safe environment and gradually increases the exposure in order to desensitise the fear, it is useful for the treatment of phobias, panic disorder, OCD, GAD etc.


The Basic Psychological Needs Theory-

It defines that the primary supports of well-being are autonomy, competence and relatedness.

If anyone of them compromises the mental well-being also compromises and through the satisfaction of these needs met the intrinsic motivation also increases.

Positive Emotion Theory-

Before this theory emerged the main focus of treating illness was the negative emotions and how to deal with it like anger, fear, sadness, shame etc.

But since this theory has developed, it has widened the whole perspective.

Positive emotions like joy and gratitude have expanded one’s experience in the environment.

It doesn’t focus on ignoring negative emotions but rather on the hazardous effects of ignoring positive emotions in the long run.

PERMA Theory-

It is based on positive emotions, engagement, relationships (important for survival and well-being, meaning (purpose of life) and achievement.

Positive psychology therapists focus on using this theory for their sessions.  


This blog has focussed on the different mental health theories we know of today, what is the history behind these mental health theories and it’s models and methods.

What mental health counselling theories at present are there are also highlighted.

It has also highlighted the popular mental health theories which are being used worldwide and then the theories which are based on well-being have been discussed.

Your valuable comments and thoughts are welcomed.


What are the five models of mental illness?

The five main models of mental illness are Analytical/developmental, Behavioral, biological, cognitive and psychodynamic model.

What are some behavioural theories?

Some behavioural theories are operant conditioning, classical conditioning and modelling.

What are the theories of psychotherapy?

The theories of psychotherapy are- Behaviourism, cognitive, psychodynamic or psychoanalysis and humanistic

Why do counsellors use theories?

Counsellors use theories as it helps in focussing on a particular school of thought and accordingly treat the patient.

They can widely combine the schools of thoughts but it is only for the betterment of the patient.

What is the mental health model?

Mental health model refers to an approach of psychology which helps a mental health professional to learn about it.


Jutras, M. (2018). Historical Perspectives on the Theories, Diagnosis, And Treatment of Mental Illness

Miller, K.D. (2020). What are Mental Health Theories? (Incl. List).

“4 Popular Mental Health Counseling Theories”. (2016, Nov. 15)

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