There are many different styles of psychotherapy, based upon radically different models of mental health and mental illness. These different styles have their roots in various intellectual, social, academic, and spiritual sources. Most psychotherapists gravitate towards one or the other model, prompted by their own personal inclinations and training.

Psychotherapists themselves come from diverse training backgrounds and have various qualifications. Psychotherapists may be psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marital and family therapists, and several others.


Howeber, in this context I would like to make a distinction between psychotherapy and counseling. Counseling is more or less based on specific problem-solving issues, such as emotional adjustment or acclimation to changing environmental conditions. Counseling is usually more problem-focused, and typically time-limited. True psychotherapy is different in that it is process-oriented rather than focused on particular problems: it seeks out deep patterns and tendencies which may underlie or unite different kinds of behavior or relationships. Psychotherapy takes the relationship between the therapist and client as the vehicle of change. Therefore, in psychotherapy the therapist focuses more on guided self-exploration than on specific advice on particular issues.

Very generally speaking, psychotherapeutic models may be organized into three broad categories: Psychodynamic, Cognitive-Behavioral, and Systems Theory.

PSYCHODYNAMIC MODELS. Psychodynamic models focus upon the dynamics of the personality. It is assumed that unconscious forces shape and motivate behavior from "within." Psychodynamic theory stresses the relationship between therapist and client as a crucible for change. The therapist works on creating a safe environment for disclosure, exploration, and change, while simultaneously questioning and occasionally challenging the client. This model tends to emphasize emotional experience as key to personality functioning and change. Some specific forms of psychodynamic theory:
Psychoanalysis. Originated by Freud and carried on by others, psychoanalysis is a very traditional model with a declining membership. The therapist strives to remain neutral and objective while analyzing and interpreting the client's words. Internal dynamics are emphasized, including subconscious wishes and motivations, especially such basic forces as sexual pleasure, control, and aggression.
Object Relations. A more relational derivative of psychoanalysis, object relations theory stresses internal representations of self and others which serve as small-scale models for interpersonal relationships. Therapy focuses on establishing a safe holding environment and analysis of the development of mature understanding of self and others.
Analytical Psychology. Focuses on the principle that the personality represents a dynamic system of dynamic opposites derived from the archetypal experience of the collective unconscious, and has the power to heal itself. Therapy focuses on self-actualization through reunion of opposing tendencies and increased self-consciousness while encouraging spiritual development.

COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL MODELS. Cognitive-Behavioral models focus upon thoughts and behavior as benchmarks of psychological functioning. It is assumed that behavior or thinking is the appropriate focus of therapeutic intervention. Therapy undertakes a systematic analyis and modification of problematic behavior or distorted thoughts. This model tends to focus on concrete and observable changes which may have a maximum effect on daily living and functioning. A couple of examples:
Behavioral Therapy. Problematic behavior is analyzed, with particular attention to the antecedents and consequences of the problematic behavior. A thorough system of behavior-modification techniques is employed to modify problematic behaviors.
Schema-Based Therapy. This type of therapy focuses upon recurring thought patterns which may have common themes and which may eventually distort thinking to the extent that it becomes unrealistic. Schemas act as kinds of thematic magnets that tend to organize experience in particular ways, resulting in mental associations and patterns of thinking which may become unrealistic and require modification through confrontation, reframing, and other techniques.

SYSTEMS MODELS. The systems models take the individual in context of a more complex interpersonal system...most typically the system of greatest concern is the family, but a system may comprise any social order such as a group, community or nation. Systems theory pays attention to the social and interpersonal forces that act upon the individual from without, and the ways in which the individual affects the system in turn.

Each of these perspective may be taken as bearing valuable insights into human behavior and personality. Of course, I have my own biases, and I belong quite firmly to the psychodynamic model, and to the Analytical School most particularly, although I am also strongly affected by Object Relational and Psychoanalytic thinking. You are welcome to read more about Analytical Psychology in this website, or to read some of my essays on the various schools of thought.

The reason I identify myself as a psychodynamic psychotherapist is that I place great importance on the "subterranean" world of the unconscious, including the personal unconscious and the spiritual aspect of human existence. I believe that humans are spiritual animals with spiritual instincts that must be reckond with to allow health. I believe that over the long-term, effective psychotherapy must be able to accompany the individual into the depths of spiritual experience when indicated. Models which ignore the "deeper" aspects of psyche and personality are in danger of doing violence to them.
By Dr. Matthew Bennett Copyright 2002

Psychotherapy is a modern art, the product of ancient traditions intersected with modern cultural and technological paradigms. Also called "the talking cure," psychotherapy involves treatment of mental disorders or emotional problems, but it also may focus on healthy development leading beyond issues of illess and limitation towards self-actualization and self-exploration. .

Ventana Center for Psychotherapy

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