Therapy in Brief

There are many types of psychotherapeutic approaches, and many therapists will list several different approaches that they use with their patients. Part of the reason that there are so many types of therapies is that there has never been a consensus amongst mental health professionals about one ‘right’ way of doing therapy. The field of mental health care has evolved rapidly over the past century, and in that timeframe many theorists and researchers have proposed different ways of alleviating suffering.

While today this expansion of treatment approaches has led to debates about the relative merits among even similar therapies, one of the central debates of the past century has been between psychoanalytic and behavioral traditions, and a high percentage of modern therapies have their roots in one of these traditions. Rather than one of these approaches being right and the other being wrong, both have effectively underscored one of the reasons people develop psychological symptoms and described techniques for reducing those symptoms. Both have made important contributions to contemporary therapeutic practices and current practitioners frequently draw on the theories and interventions from both of these traditions to best aid their patients. I focus specifically on these two traditions to avoid muddling the already complicated topic of psychotherapy.

Contemporary psychoanalytic therapeutic practices focus on the repair of wounds experienced in relationships--most typically early relationships with caregivers. Just as a developing child needs certain nutritional requirements to be met in order to grow up physically healthy and strong, an emerging child’s psyche requires certain emotional sustenance from caregivers to fully development into a healthy, joyful adult psyche. When those needs are not met (or worse, when the child instead receives painful and invalidating messages), the child develops psychological protective mechanisms that help them survive in their families but which ultimately create long-term difficulties in accessing and experiencing the full range of human emotions, and which may also inhibit their ability as adults to form fulfilling relationships. In-depth work with a psychodynamically-oriented therapist is a transformative process in which people have a chance, through their relationship with their therapist, to expel old, hurtful messages and take in the positive, supportive messages they did not receive earlier in life. In doing so people are able to reach their full capacity to flourish. Click here to read more in-depth about contemporary psychoanalytic practices.

Contemporary behavioral therapeutic practices focus less on the specific repair of relational wounds, and instead more broadly on helping people develop a sense of mastery in the world around them. People are equipped with tools to help them approach situations that create anxiety, and through repeated experiences of entering these situations and seeing that they are able to cope they develop greater confidence and resiliency. In this sense, behavioral therapy is a bit like going to the gym with a personal trainer. With guidance, people can push through challenges that previously seemed insurmountable, and in doing so flex emotional muscles that in turn develop greater strength to handle future challenges. Click here to read more in-depth about contemporary behavioral practices.