Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Essence of Psychotherapies

What accounts for the “success” of psychotherapy? According to many voices in the field, it has nothing to do with the specifics of the particular therapy. Sol L. Garfield, the former editor of the Journal of Counseling and clinical Psychology, wrote,

• It thus appears that some type of explanation [or diagnosis] offered by the therapist during psychotherapy has a positive impact on the patient. It seems that whether or not the explanation or interpretation given is “true” …is really of little significance in the therapeutic situation. (Handbook of Eclectic Psychotherapy, 151).

What then makes the difference? Why do clients report improvement? According to Jerome Frank,

• It is generally agreed that the success of a psychotherapist depends in part on his genuine concern for the patient’s welfare. (Persuasion and Healing, 183)

This concern is so critical to the therapeutic process that Hans H. Strupp has argued that

• “future research efforts must be aimed at matching a particular patient with a particular therapist for the purpose of achieving a human relationship in which the patient as a human being can feel respected, accepted, and understood. (Divergent Views in Psychotherapy)

However, former psychoanalyst Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson regards this as manipulative and deceptive:

• It is not difficult to appear to be attentive when one is rewarded handsomely. If we place our trust in somebody, it matters very much whether that person only appears to be worthy of our trust, or actually is worthy…The therapeutic relationship always involves an imbalance of power. One person pays, the other receives. (Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing, 244)

Consequently, Masson believes that “therapy is never honest”:

• Because therapy depends for its existence on the postulate that the truth of a person’s life can be uncovered in therapy [and this Masson denies], the therapist is rarely willing or able to acknowledge that the profession itself is fraudulent. (240)

Masson supports his claim by citing a number of self-serving myths that psychotherapists tell themselves and others, like “he came to me after he had tried everything else.” However, the biggest myth seems to be that psychotherapy represents healing insights more than relationship and the power of suggestion.

Does this mean that insights have little to do with genuine healing or that counseling can’t impart significant truths? Of course not! I think that Positive Psychology has made strides in identifying some common sense life-strategies that really make a difference – forgiveness, respect, thankfulness, honesty, and confession of wrong-doing.

However, it’s noteworthy that the Bible had been there all the time. For example, take Paul’s admonition:

• Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephes. 4:31-32)

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