It matters that people have a way to use the latest findings in psychology beyond buying a pill for depression. It matters that people have a way of looking at their lives that lets them ask the big questions and determine how they want to live – and that this is supported by therapists and mental health professionals.


The right therapist is important, but the right therapy is crucial

Posted on 25 May | 4 comments
Psychology isn't one size fits all

NPR recently aired a story on choosing the right therapist, or as they titled the piece “Shop For A Psychotherapist To Avoid the Lemons.” 


Unlike prescription treatments, therapy is an intimate experience. You’ll be asked to open yourself up to someone else seeing, hearing and hopefully empathizing with your personal pain and struggles. Doing this with another person is incredibly intimate, which is why it important to find the right person to join you on this journey.


The NPR report is not only suggesting the right person but the right therapy as well. There is still a good amount of debate about the effectiveness of some therapies on individuals. For the NPR Science Friday report, three psychologists on their opinions on what constituted effective therapy.


But there is growing support for the one factor that truly helps – the client relationship.


The woman interviewed for the NPR story reflected that she was fortunate that she found a therapist that she just clicked with. That ‘click’ is what made a difference in her life and others.


Three approaches to therapy that were not discussed in this story focus in on the reality of this relationship.


Humanistic Therapy

The understanding of the individual as being on a journey to their greatest potential. Person-centered therapy is a part of this approach. Humanistic psychologists do not focus on what’s wrong with people, rather they focus on what’s right. In this approach the therapist creates a space where you the client feels safe, is comfortable and is allowed to be genuine. There is no judgment or shaming in the process. Unconditional positive regard is the core of person centered therapy. The humanistic approach will include the same values of creating a supportive and positive environment for clients to grow.


Existential Psychotherapy

Irvin Yalom’s definition – a dynamic approach to therapy which focuses on concerns that are rooted in an individual’s existence; death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. One who is depressed can shift their thoughts towards the positive but the work within existential therapy would ask the client to seek the source of those negative thoughts, possibly related to the four concerns of life.


As Rollo May said, “Existential therapy is radically different. Its aims are different…the aims are not to patch the person up. The aims are to open the person up. The aims are to help this person become more sensitive to life, to beauty.”


Existential Humanistic therapy

Therapy focuses on the living moment rather than the past. What is present in the room is reflection of what was before. People are not types, their experiences cannot be categorized. The focus of the therapy is on looking at the limitations and potentials an individual has in their life. The existential givens are matched with the empathy of unconditional positive regard. You as a client would be in embraced by the therapist in a process of finding out how they can use the best of themselves to deal with the givens in life.


All of these approaches consider the client to be the source of their own healing and the therapist is helps to bring out this wisdom.


The relationship between the client and therapist helps to bring out the wisdom in you. In order to find that ‘click’ that Ms. Ohlsen spoke of in the NPR story it is good advice to interview your potential therapist. Good questions to ask would be what is their therapeutic orientation? How do they work with clients? What do they find to be the most challenging aspects of their work with clients? Most therapists will put on their website the types of therapies they use in sessions.


Even though the NPR story focused in on getting folks to consider therapists who use evidence based therapies, the one thing they neglected to mention is personal change in therapy is still dependent on the client. Therapy is not a magic pill. Even with extensive research, there has not been a definitive type of treatment that will work with everyone, just some. One therapy may be good for you and another may be good for a friend.


It’s still really dependent upon you, your therapist and most importantly your relationship.



 -- Makenna Berry



Comments and Discussions

Great article and very

Great article and very helpful for clients. Thanks for writing this.

Brilliant, just brilliant. So

Brilliant, just brilliant. So many people are not only against biomedical psychiatry, but psychotherapy as well. I support a renewal of study into the theoretical tenets of psychology, the study of human behvaior. The one issue that remains within my mind as I ponder how anyone can believe that psychotherapy is somehow inherently "bad", is that they seem to ignore the fact that "we are social creatures"; and, by necessity, we must socialize our worlds with one another. Without this emotional, spiritual, "mental" contact with one another, we curl up and die. Studies on infants have shown that when physical contact and interaction has been removed, their physical health declines. Studies have shown that non-human animals kept in cages, with no interaction, develop serious behavioral and psychological problems. In short, we need to be in contact with other humans. Unfortunately this is not always possible due to failed relationships in the nuclear family, leaving the person in distress with the higher likelihood of developing poor coping skills (such as self medication with alcohol, drug abuse, etc)that lead to repression of emotions; finally they can repress no more and the result is emotional overwhelm that can manifest into failed relationships, job loss, psychosis, breakdown, etc. Psychotherapy, if it could be peeled to its core, would point to the fact that getting through life's problems is best done with a trusted, caring person, in a trusted safe space. This is a perfectly human, and natural exercise. When these two conditions are achieved, psychotherapy is a life saver. When these two conditions are compromised, psychotherapy can be a waste of time. Its down to the benevolence and love and quality training of the therapist for their fellow human. In short, the "fitness" of the therapist is at the core of good psychotherapy.

I greatly enjoyed this

I greatly enjoyed this article, and I loved your commentary, Patrice. I am going to print it to keep, if you don't mind. You have summarized the unobservable part of therapy. As a young therapist it clarified what I've been learning over the past several years. Thank you for your comment!

Good advice for prospective

Good advice for prospective clients. Thanks.

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