Advocating for an Eclectic Therapeutic Approach
One of the issues that face counselor educators and supervisors today is the fact that counselors have a tendency to focus only on one main modality in their clinical work (Duncan, Miller, Wampold, & Hubble, 1999), which often stops them from becoming truly effective change agents for their clients. Going beyond the one-approach-mindset, the eclectic approach allows counselors to learn and apply the modalities that actually work, combine them to craft their clinical voice, and to adjust their interventions to the specific problems and characters of their clients.
In the foreword to the book The Heart and Soul of Change, Jon Norcross (1999) makes a statement supporting the eclectic approach clearly and unapologetically:
Let’s confront the unpleasant reality and say it out loud:
The rivalrous warfare among theoretical orientation in psychotherapy has impeded scientific advances and hindered the development of effective treatments. In the dogma-eat-dogma environment of “schoolism,” clinicians traditionally operated from within their own particular theoretical frameworks, often to the point of being oblivious to alternative conceptualizations and potentially superior interventions. Although this ideological cold war may have been a necessary developmental stage, its day has come and passed. The era of rapprochement is open us. (Norcross, 1999. P. xvii).
What that means for counselor educators, is that we must avoid the competition that has slowed down the evolution of the counseling profession, keeping counselors divided between different schools of thought. A professional counselor must be on a long trajectory journey to expand their knowledge and experience in various counseling modalities so that they can be of service to a wide variety of clients and problems, as efficiently as possible.
Choosing to pursue a synthesis of various approaches, if taken to the extreme can of course also become a double-edged sword, with the term “jack of all trades, master of none” coming to mind. If one chooses just to collect information from various books, that simply would not be enough. When learning a specific therapeutic approach one needs to devote the time and the effort to practice it enough, with colleagues and real clients, with the self-discipline of a purist - practicing it is as described, without adding anything from their previous knowledge. Only after that would come the natural integration with the counselor’s previous knowledge and experience.
Another potential problem with the eclectic approach becomes when it is just a cover-up a word that counselors use when they do not actually have a multitude of training and education in various modalities, and just stay within the comfort zone of the basic helping skills they have received during their counseling master’s program. Not clearly defined knowledge, without any specific interventions, and only the introductory tools of the counseling profession can not be considered eclectic, just basic.
My contribution in the journey of helping counselors to help their clients as efficiently as possible as a counseling educator is twofold: introduce my students to a wide variety of therapy modalities that I know that they’re not exposed to in their general program of studies, and advocate for expanding their knowledge, skills, and experimenting with the various modalities on their own. There is an immense power in integrating and choosing which therapy modality is the most appropriate: “Eclectic practitioners are continuously making decisions as to which approach they will apply, with which clients and under which circumstances.” (Palmer & Woolfe, 1999, p. 127). Furthermore, research has proven that different people and different situations need different approaches (Palmer & Woolfe, 1999).
Counselor educators need to ensure their leadership and/or advocacy efforts are ethical and culturally relevant. Expanding their expertise to various modalities can help with that tremendously. For example, the approach of motivational interviewing (Hettema, Steele, & Miller, 2005) and its interventions, can prevent therapeutic aggression, and provide clearly defined interventions to “join” the clients, versus just keeping “joining” as a theoretical concept that will magically manifest in the therapy session if the counselor is simply aware of it.
Another example is the approach and interventions of brief solution-focused therapy (O'Connell, 2012). Armed with the three years of often deep personal emotional work, counseling jargon, and the belief that therapy is only about putting emotions into words to develop a deep therapeutic relationship, counselors often miss the opportunity of actually helping their clients create change in the areas where they are suffering today. Many clients often come from underserved populations, and for them, there is an immediate need to solve real-life problems, and not just talk about them.
There is no argument about the fact that compassionate nodding for fifty minutes is helpful by itself (Rogers & Wood, 1974), I believe that it is my responsibility as a counselor educator, to help counselors move beyond just creating a therapeutic bond and the short term relief of a therapy session. Modalities such as brief solution-focused therapy can help clients create the changes they have been wanting to create in a planned but gentle way.
Sasha Raskin, MA, is an international #1 bestselling co-author , the founder and CEO of Go New , a transformational education program, a life, and business coach and a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO. He is working on a P.h.D in Counseling Education and Supervision and is an adjunct faculty at the Contemplative Counseling master’s program at Naropa University, from which he also graduated. Sasha has been in the mental health field for more than 10 years, worked with youth at risk, recovery, mental health hospitals, and coached individuals, couples, families, startups, and groups. He has created mindfulness stress reduction and music therapy programs within different organizations. Whether it’s in person or via phone/video calls, Sasha uses cutting-edge, research-based techniques to help his clients around the world to thrive.
As a coach Sasha Raskin provides individual and group coaching in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls, drawing from over ten years of experience. His services include: life coaching, business coaching, career coaching, ADD / ADHD coaching, leadership coaching, and executive coaching. Schedule your free 20-minute coaching phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
As a counselor in Boulder, CO, Sasha provides individual counseling in Boulder, CO , family therapy in Boulder, CO, and couples therapy in Boulder, CO, marriage counseling in Boulder, Colorado, and couples intensives / couples retreats, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience. Schedule your free 20-minute psychotherapy phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
Duncan, B. L., Miller, S. D., Wampold, B. E., & Hubble, M. A. (1999). The heart and soul of change: Delivering what works in therapy. American Psychological Association.
Hettema, J., Steele, J., & Miller, W. R. (2005). Motivational interviewing. Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol., 1, 91-111.
O'Connell, B. (2012). Solution-focused therapy. Sage.
Rogers, C. R., & Wood, J. K. (1974). Client-centered theory: Carl R. Rogers.
Palmer, S., & Woolfe, R. (Eds.). (1999). Integrative and eclectic counselling and psychotherapy. Sage.