Combining schools of thought

There are many, many different schools and styles of counselling. Some of these are summarised briefly here:

Many counsellors train primarily for a particular method of counselling and then undertake more advanced training to gain knowledge and experience of other approaches. With experience, counsellors may then adapt their way of working to combine elements of these other approaches that they find helpful in arriving at positive outcomes for their clients.

This is a controversial area, as illustrated recently in an article by Chris Molyneux in the latest issue of Therapy Today*. Here he argues that cognitive behavioural therapy and the person-centred approach, which he finds the most common pairing, are mismatched and cannot work together. He has also found from his survey that some counsellors offer twelve different approaches. He questions the appropriateness of this. I share his misgivings. It reminds me of the restaurant that offers pages and pages of different dishes, leaving you wondering if any one of them is really prepared to the required standard.

This broader debate is not new. The so-called purist argument is that combining approaches can create confusion. The implication of this is that energies would be better directed towards working through the controversies around how one approach might be ‘better’ than others. Because if you can crack that conundrum you arrive at the perfect approach. Hmmm.

But if approaches are to be combined, how should this be achieved? Should the counsellor choose ideas and techniques from a number of different approaches to meet specific client needs as they arise (the ‘eclectic’ approach)? Is this okay if it’s a genuine response to identified needs and it works for the client, even if it feels random and disorganised?

Or how about trying to combine different methods of counselling into something that feels more coherent and more soundly organised (the ‘integrative’ approach)? But then wouldn’t this become too structured? Might this be more in response to the counsellor’s desire for a tightly defined discipline rather than being directed towards the true interests of the client?

Naturally both counsellors and academics have their personal views about this. Ultimately the counsellor’s approach to counselling should reflect his/her personal theories about what it means to be human how we are motivated. As Chris says, ‘Our view of human nature … is central in determining our choice of counselling approach’.

Much has been written about what motivates us as human beings, what makes us human and the essence of human nature. Psychology and its related disciplines are teeming with theories. It won’t surprise anybody to know that they don’t all come to the same conclusion.

*‘The problem with pluralism’, Chris Molyneux, Therapy Today, May 2014.