This post is the sixth in a series of essays summarizing key traditions within the emerging metamodern ecosystem. To learn more about Life Itself’s Mapping Metamodern project, visit our website here.
“Psychotherapy is the informed and intentional application of clinical methods derived from established psychological principles for the purpose of assisting people to modify their behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and/or other personal characteristics in directions that the participants deem desirable.”Norcross in An Eclectic Definition of Psychotherapy
Central Ideas and Claims
Psychotherapy is a practice designed to provide benefits established through collaboration between a client and psychologist. Such benefits might include
symptom relief and personality change, a reduction in future symptomatic episodes, enhanced quality of life, adaptive functioning in work/school and relationships, and an increase in the likelihood of making healthy life choices.
There are hundreds of different approaches to psychotherapy based on many different schools of thought. In practice, the method employed by a therapist is often not one ‘pure’ type of psychotherapy, but will instead draw from a number of perspectives and schools. The following are a few popular approaches to psychotherapy.
Constructivist and Existential Psychotherapy
The aim of psychotherapists working in constructivist and existential approaches is to help clients become clearer about how they are experiencing and dealing with challenges they are facing, and to empower them to respond to these in a more informed and effective way. The aim is that through such examination, a person can be assisted in finding meaning, purpose, and ownership in how they live and thus be able to live a more fulfilling and satisfactory life.
A constructivist or existential approach can be especially helpful if a client needs help understanding what they are suffering from, be that physical, emotional, environmental, spiritual, or any combination of these.
Family and Systemic Psychotherapy
This type of psychotherapy is based on the idea that each of us is part of a wider network or “system”. Our interactions with other people have an impact on how the system works.
Therapists working within this area view problems as lying within the group as a whole, rather than with a single person. A family and systemic psychotherapist will look at how different factors affect people in the system, as well as the interactions of the group and its patterns and dynamics. The aim is to help everyone understand each other and develop new ways to communicate. They will support the system to change and address relationship patterns, rather than analyze subconscious impulses or childhood trauma.
This therapy is used in businesses, education, politics, psychiatry, social work and family medicine, as it helps groups to talk about difficult issues and build relationships.
Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy
‘Humanistic and Integrative’ is an umbrella term for a group of approaches which all have an underlying humanistic philosophy. A therapist working within this tradition seeks to understand the client’s experience of their world and their relationship to it through a collaborative client/ therapist relationship. Rather than seeking to fix problems, therapists help their clients to evolve better ways of dealing with them. Different approaches are adapted and blended to suit the individual needs of each client. Methods can range from traditional ‘talking’ therapies to methods such as dance movement, breath work and body-oriented therapies, or art therapy.
Outcome-Oriented and Hypno-Psychotherapies
This psychotherapy approach offers a more interactive relationship between the therapist and client who work to co-create ways forward based on the client’s unique experiences and strengths. Often the therapy is conducted with a specific goal in mind, such as to heal painful experiences, improve relationships or address difficult behaviors. The aim of the approach is to facilitate clients to make changes to live more healthily, fully and authentically.
The approach comes from solid theory and a research base founded on the most ancient to most current studies of how people move beyond surviving to thriving. Pre-Freudian altered state practices, such as mindfulness, are central to Hypno-Psychotherapy.
Psychotherapists working within this tradition will work with a range of integrative approaches, including ways that you can learn to have a better relationship with your thoughts and feelings so that you are able to access these as resources and inner guidance. Often psychotherapists will facilitate clients to achieve a state of inner calm, relaxation or heightened creativity – a state that has been called ‘hypnosis’.
History and Lineage
The term psychotherapy is derived from Ancient Greek psyche (ψυχή meaning “breath; spirit; soul”) and therapeia (θεραπεία “healing; medical treatment”).
Psychotherapy as a modern phenomenon dates back to the late 19th century and is linked to an individualization of lifestyles which was emerging on a broad scale at this time. Individualization puts higher demands on the individual psyche than life in societies that focus strongly on traditions and collective patterns of identification. This relationship between individualization and “psychotherapeutization” does not mean that psychotherapy has no historic grounding. On the contrary, psychological methods have been used to heal others by medics, philosophers, spiritual practitioners throughout the ages.
German philosopher Wilhelm Wundt opened the first laboratory devoted to scientific psychology in 1879. The Nancy school further developed the concept of “psychotherapy” in the sense of using the mind to heal the body through hypnotism. Charles Lloyd Tuckey’s 1889 work, Psycho-therapeutics, or Treatment by Hypnotism and Suggestion, popularized the work of the Nancy School in English.
From the end of the 19th century to around 1960, the dominant inﬂuence in psychotherapy was Freud and his colleagues. After his death in 1939, Freud’s followers continued to defend psychoanalysis, creating variations and modiﬁcations of his original scheme.
Client-centered therapy as developed by Carl Rogers (1942) was a signiﬁcant departure from Freudian views – where the therapist was considered the expert on the client. Rogers emphasized the client’s potential for self-healing and the need for the therapist to provide an environment rich in respect, warmth, and empathic connection. Rogers thus brought person-centered psychotherapy into mainstream focus. This approach would become what is known as humanistic psychotherapy today.
- Walter Cooper Dendy (1794–1871): English surgeon and writer. Introduced the term “psycho-therapeia”.
- Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): a Viennese neurologist who gained popular reputation as the father of psychotherapy.
- Influential practitioners and researchers: Hippolyte Bernheim (1940-1919), Carl Jung (1875-1961), Melanie Klein (1882-1960), Carl Rogers (1902-1987), John Bowlby (1907-1990), Albert Ellis (1913-2007) and Aaron Temkin Beck (1921-2021)
- Tuckey, C.L. Psycho-therapeutics, or Treatment by Hypnotism and Suggestion. 1889.
- Freud, S. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. 1901.
- Freud, S. Introduction to Psychoanalysis. 1917.
- Rogers, C. A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill., 1959.
- American Psychological Association. Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness. Psychotherapy. 50 (1): 102-109. 2013
- Gelo O., Pritz A., Rieken B. (Eds). Psychotherapy Research. Springer, Vienna, 2015.
- Lambert, M. J. (Ed.). Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change (4th ed.). New York: Wiley, 2004
- Norcross, J. C. An eclectic definition of psychotherapy. In J. K. Zeig & W. M. Munion (Eds.), What is psychotherapy? Contemporary perspectives (pp. 218–220). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1990
- Norcross, J. C., et al. (Eds.). History of psychotherapy: Continuity and change (2nd ed.). American Psychological Association, 2011.
- UK Council for Psychotherapy. Available at: https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/seeking-therapy/what-is-psychotherapy/