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Implications of Diverse Theoretical Approaches - Part IV

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By Allen Doerksen December 14, 2018 - 12:36pm

If a counsellor is willing to buy into the basic premise of this course, namely, that the diverse theoretical approaches to psychotherapy and counselling have their own legitimacy and efficacy despite their differences, then another implication of this basic premise is the legitimacy of "technical eclecticism."  By this is meant the embrace of counselling techniques that find their natural homes within a particular theoretical approach but that can, nevertheless, be used by a counsellor even if the overall framework of the approach within they were originally used is not embraced by either/or the counsellor or client.

In this post, I'm only looking at a few techniques drawn from the first four theoretical perspectives I've looked at: Psychoanalytic, Adlerian, Behavioural, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  The embrace of technical eclecticism means several things, at least.  It might be the fact that a particular technique e.g. interpretation within psychoanalytic therapy might not be intrinsically linked to the psychoanalytic theory but find its basis in some other or in no existing theory.  It might be the fact that particular techniques cannot be easily tied to explanations.  For example, as an Anglican priest, I've embraced certain contemplative and meditative practices e.g. mindfulness, which are more core to the Buddhist tradition than to the Christian tradition (at least as it is practiced in N. America; there is quite a bit of evidence that early Christianity's understanding of "prayer" was more influenced by "eastern thought").  There is a kind of "technical eclecticism" to my spiritual practice (and in many other's people's spiritual practices!) that doesn't need those practices to make sense within the framework of "religious doctrine."  Bottom line, these practices work for me!  Mutatis mutandis with psychotherapeutic techniques.

Another aspect of meaning may be that the counsellor and/or client need not "believe in" a particular theory or practice in the sense of being certain of or understanding its basic premises.  For example, I've struggled at different times with flying, not a fear of flying per sae, but, let's just say, anxiety related to aspects of flying.  My partner shared with me a behavioural technique that involved imagining "drilling down into the area of my body where I felt tense and then slowly unwinding the drill." I practiced this and I experienced significantly less tension.  I've no idea of the technique's theoretical basis or how it actually works but it worked for me!  I imagine that the collaboration between counsellor and client could very well be focused on exploring a variety of techniques without "belief."  Indeed, I wonder, for myself at least, if I had understood all the physiological/cognitive/emotive foundations of the technique my partner taught me would it have been as effective?  Would I "overthink" and get caught in another loop?  I'm agnostic about this but certainly curious.

Even more common is the reality that practices highlighted within one particular theoretical tradition are core practices in theories as well.  The role of techniques related to cognition is a good example. Both Adlerian and Cognitive Behavioral theory emphasize that if a client can change her thinking she can change her feelings and behaviour.  This is not so much a recognition of technical eclecticism as it is that there is actually a large overlap between theories and that counsellors are on particularly solid ground if they recommend practices that have wide currency.  


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