It should be clear that each of the therapeutic schools described above has its own philosophy and methodologies of helping people solve their life’s problems It is also important to note that there is no one approach that is best for all people. In fact, in my 40 plus years as a practicing therapist, the single most important thing I have learned is that to be truly helpful as a therapist, one must have the ability to provide a variety of therapy methods to our clientele, as what works for one person may well not work for the next. And what is effective in solving certain kinds of problems is simply not useful in dealing with others. Let me give you some examples of this:
If a person has been experiencing severe anxiety or panic episodes, rather than focusing many sessions on uncovering why they developed these symptoms (the psychodynamic approach), it is often more effective to treat the symptom immediately in order to reduce the pain they are experiencing (the behavioral method), and only then look at historical factors that may have contributed to the problem. In this situation one could employ: different forms of systematic desensitization, hypnotic induction techniques, and relaxation training to name a few. As mentioned above, in these situations the therapist may make a CD or tape recording of the relaxation session for the patient to take home and listen to on their own. They then have their own “portable therapist” available when needed.
Another example: The patient presents with feelings of depression, emptiness, feelings that life is meaningless and “anhedonia” (inability to get pleasure out of anything in life). This person is of course suffering from clinical depression, and presents a very different challenge than the anxious individual described above. For many depressed patients (though not all, of course), either a psychodynamic or a cognitive approach is needed. They will not be “cured” in one or two sessions, though they can begin the road to recovery even after the initial session and begin to develop hope that things will change. We know that having hope is often a powerful first step in turning around even the most profound depression.
One final example of how different problems need different therapy approaches: A person says that “everyone in my family (or at work) says I have a short temper.” He or she describes many examples of unpleasant encounters with others, when tempers flare, nasty things are said, hurtful accusations are hurled back and forth, etc. In these cases, of course, we are looking at therapy approaches that involve anger management techniques, teaching the person how to handle frustrations in more effective ways. Providing coping skills in this area can be “lifesaving” in terms of preventing marriages, family relationships, and workplace problems from dissolving, with often disastrous consequences. Anger Management generally falls under the category of cognitive behavioral approaches.
From these brief examples, it should be clear that different problems, different life experiences, and different cultural parameters need to be respected when deciding on a therapy method. The more experience a therapist has, the more nuanced he or she becomes in choosing a therapy “technology” or approach to utilize with the wide variety of people who come for help.
As an interested reader, you might Google psychological issues that relate to the problems you are experiencing. These days, as you know, there is information on every topic under the sun, and it can often be helpful to know more about the latest thinking in these areas. General headings to check out would be: Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Anger Management, Marital Counseling, Phobias, Workplace Stress, Stress Management, Smoking Cessation and Parenting Skills.
When I was a graduate student back in the 1960’s (I was very young!) I learned about a study comparing therapists of different orientations as well as therapists with more and less years of practice. The results stick with me to this day: The research found that therapists with many years of practice were more similar to each other in their approach than, for example, a young Freudian and an older Freudian. In other words, as we get more experience under our belts, therapists tend to become more similar in their ways of dealing with and understanding people.
What this means is not that different techniques do not matter. They certainly do. Rather it means that what is most important in becoming a competent therapist is the attitude that no one technique has a monopoly on the truth. We need to understand and know all of the wide variety of techniques and technologies out there to be of most help to you, when you trust us at one of the most important junctures in your life, when you are asking a professional therapist to take care of you and guide you in a time of great personal need.