SORTING OUT THE DIFFERENT COUNSELING APPROACHES
You can think of a human being as an animal with four legs: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. If a leg is missing, then the animal can only hobble along.
With this image in mind, most therapies can be seen as working to restore healthy functioning to one or more of the legs. Some work on the assumption that if you strengthen one leg, the others will strengthen in turn. Others address all the legs at the same time. All therapies work. The trick is finding out which style of therapy will work best for you at this time in your life.
It's not easy to compare different therapies, as each has its own language. For example, the term "ego" has positive connotations in some approaches, negative in others. In an effort to compare apples with apples, I'm going to begin with a definition of mental and emotional health, as even something as basic as this varies greatly between the different therapies.
The definition of health I find most useful centers around the idea of flexibility. Just as physical flexibility is a sign of a healthy body, so is mental and emotional flexibility a sign of a healthy mind. Mental and emotional flexibility is about having choice in the present moment, and not having your life determined by what has happened to you as a child.
The opposite of flexibility is rigidity. Emotional scar tissue brings about this rigidity, and it is in these unhealed areas that we lose choice in the moment. In these situations, how we think, feel, and act are predetermined by our childhood experiences.
The aforementioned scar tissue resides in the unconscious, and so, to move from rigidity to flexibility, we are given two central tasks: to become aware of how the wounds live on in the present; and to somehow affect a change. The different therapies vary and often disagree as to how to address these two tasks as much as Republicans and Democrats disagree about how to run the government.
In order to compare the different therapies, let's begin with a short case study:
Sharon grew up as a shy child. Her parents were critical, and went by the motto, "Children are to be seen and not heard." And so she complied. As a child, her shyness was useful in her family situation; but as an adult, it gets in her way, especially when it comes to dating. She decides to seek therapy for help with this issue.
In terms of our definitions of flexibility and rigidity, she's stuck feeling and acting shy. There are times when it's appropriate to be shy and withdrawn, and other times to be outgoing, but this flexibility is not available to her. She does not have choice in the present moment when it comes to dating. Therefore, the goal of therapy would be to help Sharon loosen this rigidity, so that she would feel greater ease and have more choices in social situations.
With this as our basic premise, let's explore the counseling approaches.
(Please note: This section is in a regular process of improvement. If you disagree with anything said here, or have something useful to add, please contact me. Thank You)
In order to simplify comparing close to forty different therapies, the theories are loosely grouped into the following categories.
-Mental / Behavioral - Therapies that focus on what you think and do, and not so much on the expression of feelings.
Behavioral; Cognitive/RET; Solution Oriented Therapy. Reality Therapy
-Psychoanalytic Therapies - Emphasis is on understanding and working with the unconscious mind.
Psychoanalysis, Psychodynamic Therapy
-Humanistic therapies - These therapies focus on the whole person.
Person centered; Voice Dialogue; Gestalt; Transactional Analysis; Jungian; Self-Relations
-Expressive Therapies - This can be thought of as a sub-category of humanistic therapies, in which emotional expression is seen as the key to healing in these therapies.
Art Therapy; Movement/Dance Therapy; Emotional Release Therapy; Psychodrama
-Relaxation Based Therapies - These therapies have the component of relaxation as essential to healing.
-Family Systems Therapy - Systems therapy focuses on the entire system, not just the individual.
Family Systems Therapy
-Philosophy Based Therapies - These therapies are founded upon a certain life philosophy. In general, the philosophy is in place first; then compatible therapeutic techniques are added.
Existentialism; Feminist Therapy
-Energy Therapies - These therapies focus on working psychologically with the body's electro-magnetic energy field.
EMDR; Thought Field Therapy
-Transpersonal - In regards to the four legged animal we mentioned earlier, therapists with this orientation address the spiritual leg.
-Mind/Body Therapies - These therapies focus on the working with both the body and the mind, seeing the two as connected and affecting one another.
-Therapies for Children - Play Therapy