Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Eclectic Approach to Psychotherapy

Varying books on psychotherapy and theory from Freud, Glasser, Jung, Rogers, Selekman and Yalom.

        Ever been to a Social Worker's office where the book case is packed with expensive looking books that have interesting titles like Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, The Interpretation of Dreams, or On Becoming a Person. Sometimes I wonder if they have really read ALL of those books and if so, do all of them inform their practice? Do they hold all that knowledge in their head all at once and use what's relevant as it comes up or is it all mushed together like some messy ball of cords, tangled headphones wires and whatever else is wrapped up there, in one giant knot of information.

        Today I had the great pleasure of speaking with Gary Direnfeld, an esteemed Social Worker whose work I admire very much. We talked about the eclectic approach to counselling and psychotherapy. I proudly am a member of the eclectic approach but at times have found it difficult to give an effective overview of exactly what it means. I wish to share here the main ideas from my conversation with Gary to help clarify eclectic therapy in general and describe my own eclectic approach to doing therapy. This is especially relevant with the popularity of specific therapies, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychoanalysis or other therapies that receive widespread attention. Some clients when seeking out a therapist may specifically search for a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and not fully understand what an eclectic therapist may have to offer.

An eclectic therapist does not subscribe to one way of doing therapy. Ideally, they integrate multiple theories or explanations for human behaviour and can tie them together seamlessly. This is called Theoretical Integration which is a textbook term for a therapist who practices multiple forms of therapy, combining theories together as one. A different example of an eclectic approach in therapy is Theoretical Eclecticism which describes a therapist who uses specific techniques from different therapies in response to presenting problems. This is a matching of sorts by the therapist, using different therapies which are evidenced to best address specific problems that clients may bring to therapy.

        I find myself as a Humanistic psychotherapist with a Client-Centered approach but use many other theories to inform my understanding of causes and contributions to the problems that clients attend therapy for. This textbook/theoretical knowledge is valuable to my understanding but the real value comes from having a knowledge of the evidence related to specific therapeutic practices and applying them appropriately.

For example, many of my clients have found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helpful in my work with them. CBT is a treatment for all ages (adults, children and adolescents) which addresses anxiety and mood disorders, insomnia, stuttering, post traumatic stress, post stroke stress, etc. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is helpful in identifying thoughts, beliefs and assumptions that make life harder. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is shown to be effective with borderline personality disorder, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, anger, self harming, depression and anxiety. DBT is similar to CBT in that it's a behaviour therapy but it has additional skills and learning materials as well as group skills training/education which some clients find helpful.

I also draw from Existential Psychotherapy which is useful to individual clients as well as couples attending counselling who are dealing with bereavement, grief, loneliness, fear of death or death anxiety, feeling lost in life or suffering with feelings that life is meaninglessness. Existential Therapy focuses on finding meaning in life and many clients have endorsed this approach to counselling.

The most essential part about eclecticism, is using it effectively. I ask myself, how can I make my knowledge and expertise useful to my clients.

I hope that sheds some light on how the eclectic approach works,
Tim Gordon.
Hamilton, ON


  1. Zen, It is always great feeling to read your article. I am new here, I think it's my third day ..but I already love this blog....Keep it up mate..
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  2. I appreciate very much your thoughts and creative ideas..excellent.
    I am a psychotherapist and an Homeopath.I also use multi- dimensional approach. The use of homeopathic medicine + counselling is much effective. All theories , including ours have limitations which is the scope for new thoughts and developments. Hence be flexible in thoughts to solve problems, Obstinate attitudes , in homeopathic language, fixed ideas are actually a symptom of failure means disease.