Different counselling approaches

Firstly, let’s establish the difference between “counselling” and “psychotherapy” ……

A psychotherapist is a trained individual who is able to offer a form of counselling to clients. Someone with the same qualifications however, may decide to be called a counsellor instead. Generally a practitioner offering short-term treatment is known as a counsellor. An individual with two or more years of training will opt to be known as a psychotherapist.

To the public the title counsellor appears less intrusive and more easily acceptable than the name psychotherapist suggests. A psychotherapist may therefore call him/herself a counsellor, in order to attract potential clients.

A counsellor will offer a more specialised service of communication that concentrates on providing a structure to the counselling experience. So treatment for addiction, for instance, will be offered in progressive stages over a period of time. A psychotherapist however, will focus on a deeper awareness of emotional issues, and looks at the foundation of the problem.

So how do you know which counselling/psycho-therapeutic approach works best for you? 

Psychoanalysis/Psycho-dynamic Theory

Psychoanalysis or psycho-dynamic theory, also known as the “historical perspective,” has its roots with Sigmund Freud, who believed there were unconscious forces that drive behaviour.  The techniques he developed, such as free association (freely talking to the therapist about whatever comes up without censoring), dream analysis (examining dreams for important information about the unconscious), and transference (redirecting feelings about certain people in one’s life onto the therapist) are still used by psychoanalysts today.

In general, psychotherapists and counsellors who use this approach direct much of their focus and energy on analysing past relationships and, in particular, traumatic childhood experiences in relation to an individual’s current life. The belief is that by revealing and bringing these issues to the surface, treatment and healing can occur. This theory is highly researched, and as the field of neuroscience advances, counsellors are finding how psycho-dynamic theory can actually positively affect a client’s brain.

Psycho-dynamic theory can be more time intensive in comparison to some short-term theories because it involves changing deeply ingrained behaviours and requires significant work on understanding one’s self.

Behavioural Theory

Behavioural theory is based on the belief that behaviour is learned. Classic conditioning is one type of behavioural therapy that stems from early theorist Ivan Pavlov’s research. Pavlov

executed a famous study using dogs, which focused on the effects of a learned response (e.g., a dog salivating when hearing a bell) through a stimulus (e.g., pairing the sound of a bell with food).

B. F. Skinner developed another behavioural therapy approach, called operant conditioning. He believed in the power of rewards to increase the likelihood of a behaviour and punishments to decrease the occurrence of a behaviour. Behavioural therapists work on changing unwanted and destructive behaviours through behaviour modification techniques such as positive or negative reinforcement.

Cognitive Theory 

In the 1960s, psychotherapist Aaron Beck developed cognitive theory. This counselling theory focuses on how people’s thinking can change feelings and behaviours. Unlike psycho-dynamic theory, therapy based on cognitive theory is brief in nature and oriented toward problem solving. Cognitive therapists focus more on their client’s present situation and distorted thinking than on their past. 

Cognitive and behavioural therapy are often combined as one form of theory practised by counsellors and therapists.  Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has been found in research  to help with a number of mental illnesses including anxiety, personality, eating, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) and substance abuse disorders.

Humanistic Approach

Humanistic therapists care most about the present and helping their clients achieve their highest potential. Instead of energy spent on the past or on negative behaviors, humanists believe in the goodness of all people and emphasise a person’s self-growth and self-actualisation.

Humanistic theories include client-centred, gestalt, and existential therapies. Carl Rogers developed client-centred therapy, which focuses on the belief that clients control their own destinies. He believed that all therapists need to do is show their genuine care and interest.

Gestalt therapists’ work focuses more on what’s going on in the moment versus what is being said in therapy. Existential therapists help clients find meaning in their lives by focusing on free will, self-determination, and responsibility.

Transactional Analysis (TA)

"I'm OK - You're OK" is probably the best-known expression of the purpose of transactional analysis: to establish and reinforce the position that recognises the value and worth of every person. Transactional analysts regard people as basically "OK" and thus capable of change, growth, and healthy interactions.

Eric Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable when he recognised that the human personality is made up of three "ego states". Each ego state is an entire system of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours from which we interact with one another. The Parent, Adult and Child ego states and the interaction between them form the foundation of transactional analysis theory. 

Integrative Therapy

Integrative therapy involves integrating various elements of different theories to the practice. In addition to traditional talk therapy, integrative therapy may include non-traditional therapies such as hypnotherapy or guided imagery. The key is to use the techniques and psychotherapy tools best suited for a particular client and problem and is very individualistic.

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