There are many ways to view the human psyche, and therefore, many theoretical orientations that psychologists draw from. Most therapists these days describe themselves as “eclectic,” meaning that they combine a variety of approaches rather that being a purist utilizing just one model of the mind. When searching for a therapist, it can be helpful to know what ingredients a therapist mixes into his or her unique therapy style. It’s important that the orientation matches the client’s personal style, belief system and specific needs. Some therapy approaches are more effective than others for particular issues. I draw from the following variety of therapeutic approaches in my work with clients:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive therapy is based on the premise that the way we think about ourselves and our experiences influences our emotions. Our perceptions are very subjective and if we view our world through a negative filter we may experience depression and anxiety. Cognitive therapy involves learning to perceive our world more accurately so that we can learn to enjoy what is positive and avoid exaggerating the negative. Behavioral therapy applies the basic principles of learning to influence changes in behavior. CBT is the blending of techniques based on cognitive and behavioral theories. Research has demonstrated that CBT can be effective in treating depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Mindfulness and acceptance-based approaches
Mindfulness is a philosophy that comes from Buddhist tradition and proposes accepting the present without judging it as good or bad. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, from sitting meditation to conscious awareness during normal daily activities. Accepting a present experience without judgment allows us to develop a more rational perspective on what we are experiencing and gives us more control over our reactions. It also helps us deal more peacefully with negative experiences that are beyond our control. Mindfulness has been growing in popularity as a psychotherapy tool and the research supporting its effectiveness is growing. It has been demonstrated to be helpful in treating depression, anxiety, and chronic pain; it is not recommended during episodes of severe depression.
To decrease pain, dysfunction, and unhappiness would simply lead one to feel “not unpleasant”. Positive psychology is an emerging field which suggests that we can do better than that. By learning what leads to happiness, fulfillment, and joy, we can go beyond reducing the negative and move into enhancing meaning, fulfillment, and pleasure in our daily lives. Research has demonstrated that it is possible to be happier regardless of one’s circumstances. Positive psychology interventions can also decrease depressive symptoms.
While Western medicine has tended to view the mind and body as separate entities, in fact, the interplay between mental and physical experiences is extensive. Somatic psychology appreciates this integration between mind and body and offers methods for influencing emotions through the body and vice versa. In my practice, I help clients cultivate the ability to listen to their bodies to learn about both physical and emotional needs. I often refer clients to different body-based therapies (e.g., acupuncture, massage, yoga) to help facilitate the work they are doing in psychotherapy.