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Different strokes by John M. Grohol


There are probably hundreds of different types of theoretical orientations and techniques that therapists use nowadays in the field of psychotherapy. Looking at all the options can become somewhat overwhelming, so John M. Grohol simplifies.


You, as a consumer of mental health services, want an overview of different approaches to therapy and practice. I will review the main schools of theory and the techniques they utilise in practice.


Four schools of theory and therapy will be examined here: Psychodynamic (and psychoanalytic); Cognitive-behavioural (and behavioural); Humanistic (and existential); and Eclectic.


Psychodynamic therapy

This is one of the oldest theories of psychology in which patients are viewed within a model of illness or “what is lacking.” Individuals are seen as being made up from a “dynamic” that begins in early childhood and progresses throughout life.


Psychoanalysis emphasises that all adult problems’ roots can be traced back to one’s childhood. Few therapists can afford to practice strict psychoanalysis anymore and it is typically found nowadays only in the hands of psychiatrists, who have spent extraordinary amounts of personal time being analysed themselves and attending a psychoanalytic institute.


Most psychodynamic therapists believe in the theoretical constructs of the ego (a mediating sort of force, like a referee), a superego (what is typically referred to as your “conscience,” as in, “Your conscience tells you not to smoke!”), and an id (the devil inside us all that says, “Go ahead, what can it hurt?”)


Cognitive-behavioural therapy

It is not really fair to lump these two together like this, but I did it anyway. Why? Because I’m trying to save space and time. Cognitive-behavioural theory emphasises the cognitions or thoughts a person has as an explanation as to how people develop and how they sometimes get a mental disorder.


Cognitive-behaviourists generally believe in the role of social learning in childhood development, and the ideas of modelling and reinforcement. People’s personalities come from these experiences in which they are involved in critical learning, identification of appropriate (and inappropriate) thoughts and feelings, and imitation of these behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. So, in other words, if your parents act like snooty, uptight individuals all their lives, and treat other people with little dignity or respect, you, as a child, would learn to do much of the same thing. Children learn by observing and imitating. This is social learning theory.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in a nutshell, seeks to change a person’s irrational or faulty thinking and behaviors by educating the person and reinforcing positive experiences that will lead to fundamental changes in the way that person copes.


Humanistic therapy

Responsibility is a key ingredient of this theory, for all humans are responsible for the choices they make in their lives, with regards to their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours.


Pretty tough stuff, eh? Yes, it is, because it says, in effect, that no matter what kind of childhood you suffered through, no matter what your life experiences, you are ultimately in charge of how you react to those experiences and how you will feel. No blaming it on the parents here! There are a number of major conflicts that also tend to need attention, according to this theory. These generally involve the struggle between “being” and “non-being” (life versus death, accepting parts of yourself, but not other parts, etc.), being authentic versus being “fake” or “fraudulent” in your day-to-day interactions with yourself and others, etc.


Eclecticism therapy

Of course I saved the best for last. Some of my colleagues are probably saying, “Hey, eclecticism isn’t a therapy!” I’d say they’re wrong, but I’m too modest and subtle for such an absolute statement. Oh, what the hell, You’re wrong! There are many forms of eclecticism, but for you, the gentle reader, it is not really important to know or understand the differences between them all. It’s a pragmatic approach to therapy, meshing all of the above approaches together to fit the individualistic human being that sits before them for the first time with their particular problem.


Eclectics use techniques from all schools of therapy. They may have a favourite theory or therapeutic technique that they tend to use more often or fall back on, but they are willing and often use all that are available to them. After all, the key here is to help the patient as quickly and as effectively as possible. Not to pigeon-hole them into some set way of looking at all people, whether it works for them or not.


This article has been adapted from http://psychcentral.com/therapy.htm


What are the alternatives?

Psychotherapy doesn’t work for everybody, but there are options out there. These are some of the most popular:

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy. The connection between the neurological processes (“neuro”), language (“linguistic”) and behavioural patterns learned through experience (“programming”) can be changed to achieve specific goals.

Hypnotherapy aims to access the deeper parts of people’s minds to help them overcome a wide range of psychological and physical conditions.

Acupuncture uses an ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine to help relieve symptoms. It involves inserting very fine needles into key pressure points on the body. The aim is to stimulate these pressure points to regulate the body’s healing process and restore health and energy.

Art therapy helps people express difficult thoughts and feelings through creative activities. It requires creativity and imagination, but can be very helpful, especially amongst people who have difficulty communicating.


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