• A ‘therapeutic approach’ is the lens through which a counsellor addresses their clients’ problems.
  • Broadly speaking, the therapeutic approaches of counsellors fall into two categories: behavioural and psychodynamic.
  • Behavioural approaches are usually short-term and address your behaviour and thought patterns.
  • Psychodynamic approaches consider your personality and family history so as to address the underlying causes of your problem.

Therapeutic approaches explained

It is probably not surprising to learn that different counsellors have different approaches to the way they counsel. These differences stem from a variety of considerations, including their education, their practice experience, their personal style and their belief systems.

What is a therapeutic approach?

A therapeutic approach is the theory by which a psychologist or counsellor frames how they view human relationships and the issues that occur for people throughout their lives. One way to think of a therapeutic approach is that it is the lens that a therapist looks through when they are considering and addressing their client’s problem.

An integrated approach

It is not at all uncommon for a trained professional counsellor to be educated in a number of different theories. In fact, many therapists utilise an integrative approach in which they blend different but complimentary theories in order to work with their client in the most effective way. This flexible approach enables the counselling experience to be tailored to the individual needs and style of each client. To state it baldly, no one theory works for everyone, so it is helpful for a counsellor to be flexible enough to switch to another approach if their preferred one is not working for that particular client.

What are the most common therapy styles?

Broadly speaking, therapeutic styles in Australia fall into two camps. The first consists of behavioural forms of therapy that are typically short-term and solutions-focused. The second is psychodynamic therapy, which tends to be longer in duration and focuses more on underlying causes.

What are short-term behavioural approaches?

Short-term approaches often have sessions that occur on a weekly or fortnightly basis, for around four to twelve weeks, although occasionally sessions can occur more frequently or they can be extended beyond the initial 12-week period.

Approaches that are intended to last only a few months are generally more focused on addressing symptoms and helping clients find ways to relieve those symptoms, rather than delving into the cause. For example, if a person has lost their job and they are experiencing anxiety about looking for and starting a new job, then short-term treatment would involve addressing those feelings of anxiety, when they occur, what the person is thinking when they occur and alternative thoughts that can create new feelings that are more positive.

Short-term counselling treatment is usually cognitively focused, meaning that it is interested in the connection between thoughts, behaviours and experiences. Behavioural counsellors will first help the client to recognise and define the behaviours and thinking patterns associated with the problem. Once defined, the counsellor will then provide tools and strategies to help the client respond differently to the problem and behave/think in an alternative way. These kinds of processes help the client take control over their lives and reposition their experiences as positive ones.

There are many different types of therapy that fall into this broad-based category, for example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Most counsellors working with this approach utilise and apply a range of different models, depending on the needs of the client.

What are long term psychodynamic approaches?

Long-term approaches are often called “psychodynamic” approaches. This approach to therapy focuses on looking at a person’s childhood experiences, upbringing, and relationship history so as to consider how this personal history affects and creates the adult personality. Broadly speaking, psychodynamic therapists believe that the problems we face as adults have developed as a result of our life experiences.

A counsellor who uses a psychodynamic approach may take a very detailed history of the family dynamics of your childhood – who was the dominant parent, was there conflict, was it a family of relaxed rules, etc – plus, you may also be asked about other aspects of childhood, like if you had a lot of friends, were you an outgoing child or were you a bookworm, etc.

History plays a large part in psychodynamic treatment because history is considered to be the indicator of how our personality develops, which in turn affects our experiences with other people. It is out of this history, that a counsellor using this approach will then be able to develop an idea of how the issues began. Once the underlying causes of the problem are recognised, healing can begin.

How do I choose an approach that will work best for me?

One of the questions we are often asked is how to choose an approach that will best help you with your problem. Here is a simple and easy way to view each approach and determine which type might be best for you.

Ask yourself:
1. Is this a relatively new problem that is contained within a specific set of circumstances?
2. Is it most important to you to achieve immediate relief for the symptoms of discomfort that you are experiencing?
3. Do you need to solve the problem with a minimum amount of time commitment?
4. Is this a recurring problem in your life?
5. Is it important to you that you figure out the larger underlying problem that is causing yours symptoms?
6. Are you willing and able to make a long-term commitment to counselling?

If you answered yes to the first three questions, then a cognitive or behavioural form of treatment may be your best choice. If you answered yes to questions 4 – 6, then psychoanalytic therapy may be more appropriate to your needs.

Where do I go for counselling help?

If you are struggling with relationship or personal issues and believe you would benefit from working with a professional behavioural or psychodynamic counsellor, or you want to talk to us about which type of therapy might be best suited to your problem, contact Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney today.

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