Doris Bersing, PhD

Time To Heal: What Psychotherapy to Use?

Psychotherpay: Finding Nemo!

Copyright Teerayut Yukuntapornpong

Many patients or clients often ask what is the difference between different approaches of psychotherapy and although much has been written about, there’s no simple answer. Just as people respond differently to different drugs, you might do better with one type of therapy than with another. Many people find that a blended approach — one that draws on elements of different schools of psychotherapy — suits them best. There are many forms of psychotherapy, but some of the most popular forms are psycho-dynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, humanistic, and couples therapy, which in reality can be based on any other theoretical approach but emphasizing systems oriented therapy.

Although embracing a particular approach of psychotherapy, as a clinician, has to do with your philosophical values and your concepts of health and human potential, knowledge of what can work better or not with your clients is needed. Remember it is not about what you want or like but what could be more efficient and meaningful to your clients.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT helps you identify self-defeating thoughts and start to develop behaviors that are more constructive. And unlike, psycho-dynamic approaches you do not need to explore into issues of the past. CBT is about what happens in your mind, now and how it affects your behavior.

Psychodynamic therapy

In contrast to CBT, which focuses on conscious thoughts, psycho-dynamic therapy emphasizes feelings that are often beneath the surface yet still influence your behavior. The goal: to help you recognize how old, unresolved problems shape the way you operate today. The therapist will guide you to recognize the links between past and present so you can become more self-aware to avoid same patterns or connections. For a comparison between psycho-dynaminc and behavioral therapy click here The Huffingon Post gave it a try as well (Read more)  And my colleague Peter Strisik, Ph.D from Alaska did a more extensive job (Read his take on it). In my own practice, I called myself a humanistic-existential psychotherapist, practicing frequently the tenants of Gestalt Therapy. Of course, at this point, they seem confused and ready to run away from something so esoteric and unpractical. Yes indeed, perhaps the big difference is we do not focus on the past but on what happens in the here and now.

Humanistic therapy

This approach establishes you as the main tool in therapy, your own healer with the potential to achieve your ultimate goals. Human resilience and self-healing are at the core of this approach. The process helps unfold your self-healing potential, stimulates creativity, and promotes personal growth.

A very simplistic way to explain it is that the existential approach in psychotherapy is organized around life on earth itself and the social, cultural and spiritual ramifications of it, that is, the “human condition.” People’s existential issues are related to their mortality and impermanence, their experience of freedom of choice (or lack of it), their sense of worthiness, and their sense of separation/connection with others. We review the contributions of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Bugental, Binswanger, Fromm, Laing, Sullivan, May, Frankl, and Yalom. We identify five themes that pervade existentialism:

  1. Meaning in life is found in the living of each moment;
  2. Passionate commitment to a way of life, to one’s purpose and one’s relationships, is the highest form of expression of one’s humanity;
  3. All human beings have freedom of choice and responsibility for our choices
  4. Openness to experience allows for the greatest possible expansion of personal expression; and
  5. In the ever-present face of death itself, we find the deepest commitment to life itself.

We also address the relationship between experiential psychotherapy, the existential approach, and Heart-Centered therapies. Needless to say that there is not a system that can really explain the complexity to f the human phenomena and of course, there is not a system that alone can give you a quick fix or a cure. The solution is in the phenomenological understanding of the situation and of the human being involved, the comprehensive analysis of the situational elements, and of the comprehensive concept of care -versus cure- that we clinicians take into account to provide the bio-psycho-social-spiritual dimensions of care.

Nonetheless, there is enough research about the patient/client being the best agent of change and the personality of the therapist being more important than the “approach” itself. Interesting, isn’t.

You can always try to do some research when trying to find the right therapist for you but let’s say that is you are ready and the therapist has enough empathy and active listening, compassion, and of course knowledge, you will be safe independently of the “approach” she/he uses.

Good Luck and do it, it is worth it… Go find Nemo!