4 Broad Approaches to Treatment


I, like other therapists, employ a mix of therapeutic approaches to help you reach your desired changes in thinking, feeling and behavior. My specialty is a psychodynamic approach even though I may employ methods from other theories during the treatment. When you choose a therapist, inquire which approach the therapist has chosen as a specialty. Most importantly, choose a therapist whose treatment approach is grounded in a supportive, caring relationship with you.

The following are four broadly described approaches to treatment:

Psychodynamic (Psychoanalytic) process, as the name implies, focuses on introspection to help you reinterpret your inner life and uncover the causes of your current conflicts and anxieties. Emotionally charged feelings are released during this process and the accompanying potency of insight leads to effortless self-correction. Thus, you are able to perceive and choose healthful, rational behaviors. This model is the preferable choice when deep understanding is sought and meaning in life needs to be recaptured. You can learn more about this theory in the works of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Anna Freud, Heinz Hartmann, Erik Erikson, David Rapaport, Melanie Klein et. al.

Humanistic Psychology is a fairly recent development. However, its origins extend far back into philosophy and the history of psychology. The theory proposes we are not products of the past, the unconscious or the environment. Rather, we exercise free choice in the pursuit of our inner potential and self-actualization. For more information, see Abraham Maslow, Charlotte Buhler (Existential/Humanistic Psychology), Charlotte Buhler and Melanie Allen, and Sidney Jourard.

Behavioral Therapy was developed by B.F. Skinner and his colleagues who showed behavior could be modified when using a system of consequences. Theories of behavioral treatment propose there is no need for a theory of the unconscious; what is known is observable. In this theory, there is no such thing as mental illness; rather, dysfunctional behavior is the result of learned symptoms. The theory assumes when symptoms are removed there is no underlying problem. In later research, Albert Bandura suggested that clients learn positive adaptation from observing and imitating the therapist who models alternative positive behaviors. Behavioral Therapy is a preferable choice for phobias, addictions and assertiveness training. Bandura’s methods are especially good for children.

Cognitive Theory proposes that maladaptive behavior and rigid thoughts cause mental distress. Therefore, behavior changes when the client’s mode of thinking changes. The therapeutic hour involves the therapist questioning, challenging, agreeing and disagreeing with your assumptions about yourself and how the world works. (See Albert Ellis.) Cognitive therapy is preferred for short-term therapy where the goal is to acquire understanding and make informed decisions. Albert Ellis also wrote a few short reader-friendly instructional books for young adults venturing into dating and sexual adulthood. Sex Without Guilt and Dating, Mating & Relating are highly recommended for their common sense attitude. For more information, you can also read Aaron Beck who did his research with more fragile clients. He is a bit gentler and more collaborative in his approach than Albert Ellis.