What is this thing, Therapy?

As I ease away from offering therapy myself, I am dazzled by the  bright eyed, young clinicians coming into practice, brimming with their brilliant array of shiny, “evidence based” techniques and specialties. Their talk of, EMDR, DBT, TF-CBT, Hakomi, NLP, EFT, MBCT, MI, with all the power of acronym, is impressive, and intimidating.

I find myself feeling a little vague about what I have been doing in my own work for the past almost 30 years, and maybe even a tad embarrassed. What happened to the simpler model in which I was trained? The common factors model of my day which argued that, since research has not been able to establish different levels of effectiveness for different therapeutic theories or approaches (true), it must be the factors those approaches have in common that account for therapy’s effectiveness. Here we are talking about such things as positive regard, accurate empathy, but most importantly, the quality of therapeutic alliance, or more simply put, the relationship between client and therapist.

My model of therapy has been two humans in a quiet room putting their heads and hearts together to better understand and hopefully ease the angst of one of them in the context of care and respect.

I am not a therapy Luddite; I don’t resist technology or change. I love all the new and different models of conceptualization and application, and I want demonstrable change and improvement for you, our clients, as much as anyone. I also understand our profession has chosen to occupy an uneasy niche as a medical sub-specialty, when there is so much about it that bears little to no resemblance to medicine. And I remind you that even with the relatively simple administering of medication, we know the relationship between doctor and patient influences the effectiveness of that treatment.

So what makes therapy work? Is it the intervention? The interpretation? The processing with the light bar? Yes! And, beneath all the innovation, I am still convinced the instrument of change lies in the self of the therapist, and his or her willingness to form a relationship with you.  It is Freud who first said therapy, “is, in essence, a cure through love.”

Research does show us that, while we can’t differentiate effectiveness among therapeutic approaches, we can, among individual therapists. Some therapists are consistently more effective than others, regardless of whether they are Behaviorists, Jungians, or use the principles of Gestalt. This completely jives with my experience.

Here in my group, I admire Beckie’s pyrotechnic language and facility with all manner of  techniques, but I am certain that her instrument of healing is that big squishy heart that also leads her to adopt baby bunnies. I admire Andrew’s amazing accomplishments, and his mastery of all manner of skills, but I know his best work when allows his sweetness to show. I believe, and I hear from their clients, that it is Jody’s unfailing lack of judgement, Steve’s bone-deep kindness, and Amy’s utter faith in every human’s drive to evolve in a positive way that foster growth in their clients.

I hire therapists based on their ability to connect, so that whatever their form of treatment, you are covered by their ability to relate to you as the unique, complicated, precious, tender soul that you are. So I am proud to say that here at Westside, we have the best of all worlds. All of the cutting edge, innovative, research-supported therapy approaches, administered by individuals of high integrity and heart, who will approach you with genuine care.