Friday, May 3, 2013

Different Theories of Learning Therapy

     I frequently think about how a counselor education programs teaches students about theoretical orientations.  Where I am learning, they tell us that it is popular and ethical to have one that we specialize in.  We should learn the ins and outs of this practice, understanding all its subtleties.
     There are a couple other ways to understand the education of counselors that don't involve a "major" in a certain theory.  These include technical eclecticism, common factors, and theoretical integration.  Before I talk about these, I think that it's important to discuss assimilative integration.
     Assimilative integration is the theory that drives the behavior of counselors to learn the entirety of a theory and add in practices and techniques from other schools when a deficit is found in the "home theory."  An example of this is talking to a lower cognitive client when a therapist's main understanding is existential psychotherapy. While this may be a good starting point for a beginning counselor, I am hesitant to recommend it to a more experienced one because it disallows, to a certain extent, the total learning of a second (or third/fourth/fifth, etc.) theory.  Instead, it values throwing many theories together without sufficient understanding behind any but one.  This seems irresponsible to me.
     Common factors is an approach to psychotherapy that promotes finding the core beneficial elements of all/any therapies and using that as the main point in therapy.  I think it appropriate to cite Rogers' elements in successful therapy.  He mentions the therapeutic alliance, genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard (among others).  These foundational points in therapy, according to Rogers, can benefit any therapist/client relationship.  From here, a counselor would, like assimilative integration, add techniques in from other theories.  Again, I don't agree with that point of view.
     Technical eclecticism pushes a more evidence-based approach to selection in therapies.  This understanding merits selection based on what has worked the most for others, researching studies on specific illnesses and their positive treatments.  This isn't the worst idea ever as it is a more problem-oriented approach (I mean this in a very different sense than strengths-based approach).
     Theoretical integration is the idea of adding different theories together in order to be able to react to any and all problems.  This is more my own understanding, but I think that it could be take a step further.
     Teaching the philosophy of theories for psychotherapy is like selecting proper camping knives.  A camper can choose any number of knives for survival.  In my opinion, an assimilative integrationist would choose a cheap multitool and a really nice machete.  Someone who studies theoretical integration would choose a nice Leatherman and a Kaybar.
     An assimilative integrationist, as mentioned, chooses one theory as a home theory or backdrop theory and include others (specifically their techniques) when it fails.  The machete symbolizes the home theory.  It's good at what it does, but it has certain limitations.  It can stab and cut, but can it saw or sew?  That's what the cheap multitool is for.  Unfortunately, it is sub-par.  It frequently fails or breaks.  Such is the limitations of not truly understanding another theory.
     A theoretical integrationist would understand theories much more completely; he would be able to utilize them efficiently and without thought for failure.  The Leatherman and Kaybar would both do their duties as they were manufactured to do.
     My own ideas on teaching theories is somewhat more radical than the others.  I believe that every competent theorist should strive to learn as many theories to their limit as possible.  This can give counselors multiple perspectives, techniques, and opinions to open their minds.  To go back to the metaphor, it would be like taking a kit or roller of tools to ensure that every possible eventuality could be controlled for.  Obviously this is an unwieldy metaphor . . . taking so many tools is uncalled for.  Understanding all theories is impossible as well.
     In the end, a counselor should really try to make his own theory.  This theory should be singular to the counselor.  Freud's theory is an extension of hi sown psychosexual infantile needs and drives.  Rogers' theory is based on his own attitude toward others.  We can only do our best to take on all the information that we can and make our own small changes to increase their results.
     It almost seems like the other theories of learning are equipped to stop the further complete learning of theories.  This seems irresponsible to me.

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