“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” Carl Jung

A wide range of therapeutic approaches exist that inform the work of counsellors and psychotherapists. At Present Moment Counselling and Psychotherapy, an integrated and blended approach is used, meaning that I work with each client in a very unique and tailored way, using the therapeutic approaches that are most relevant and helpful to them.

The following is a very brief overview of each of the main approaches that I draw on in my work, that some clients find helpful to understand.

Humanistic therapy

Humanistic theory holds that there is a positive force within each individual that innately strives for growth and development. Respect for a client’s innate wisdom and autonomy is a key principle of the humanistic approach. It is the client who is most familiar with their pain and difficulties, and therefore it is the client who holds the greatest knowledge and ability to discover their way forward. The conditions that the therapist creates within the therapeutic space and within the therapeutic relationship are fundamental for the clients’ growth and for achieving their potential. A client must feel compassionately understood, and have a strong sense of freedom to be able to express themselves openly and safely within the therapeutic space. The humanistic approach seeks to understand how life is distinctly experienced by each individual client, and the unique meaning a client places on their experiences.

The humanist approach is often referred to as ‘non-directive’, and it includes a range of different therapeutic approaches such client-centred therapy, gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

In the 1960’s, psychiatrist Dr Aaron Beck observed that dysfunctional thinking and behaviour is common to all mental health difficulties. He discovered that a person’s environment, their thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and what arises for them in their body, is all linked and interconnected. If we look closely at the parts of a person’s life that are causing them difficulty, we will identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that are contributing to these difficulties. By challenging unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, and by replacing them with more helpful and healthier ways of thinking and behaving, a person can bring about lasting and positive changes within their lives.

For example if a person suffering with anxiety can begin to identify and challenge their unhelpful fear based thought patterns, and learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and helpful way, they will experience not only an improvement in their emotional state, but it will also lead to positive changes in their behaviour, as well as a reduction in the distressing bodily experiences that are often associated with anxiety.

CBT has proven to be very effective in the treatment of various conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and phobias.

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory places great emphasis on an individual’s life experiences during infancy and childhood. All feelings and emotions that we have seek some form of expression or assimilation. Where memories and feelings were too painful or disturbing for a person to process during their early life, they are repressed in their unconscious mind. When this occurs, they can exert a powerful and hidden influence on an individual’s present day life, often causing them difficulties that they do not understand.

In using a psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approach the focus is on changing problematic behaviours, distressing feelings and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. It involves a process of discovering and opening up to our hidden selves, or to the aspects of ourselves that we are not aware of or that we have become disconnected from.

Over time, clients gain awareness and insights around their early life experiences, and their connection or link to their present day life and difficulties.

Mindfulness based psychotherapy

The principles of mindfulness when used within psychotherapy can help us to cultivate new and more helpful ways to relate to our difficulties and to ourselves.

We learn to offer ourselves more kindness and compassion, both to our present moment difficulties and to what we might have experienced in the past.

Often we can mistakenly believe that if we are facing a difficulty or problem, we must continue to use our thinking mind to focus on this difficulty until we have found the solution. Or perhaps our feelings and emotions have been too difficult to acknowledge so we have tried to push them away. Both of these ways of relating to our difficulties can actually contribute further to our suffering.

Through the use of mindfulness based practices and principles we can create a space where our thinking mind can rest, and where we can become more attuned to our internal emotional world and more aware and accepting of what arises for us in each moment. Over time we gain the ability to respond in more helpful ways to our difficulties and to many other aspects of our life.

Research has shown that mindfulness based practices and principles can provide people with the insights and skills to prevent them relapsing into depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties. It is advised however that if you are currently experiencing a particularly difficult period of depression or anxiety, that you wait until you are feeling stronger in yourself before embarking on a mindfulness practice.

Approaches to Psychology: Glassman & Hadad, 2004.
British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP): http://www.bacp.co.uk
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Basics and Beyond: Beck, 2011
Human Growth and Development: Beckett & Taylor, 2010
Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: Germer, Siegal, & Fulton, 2013.
The American Psychological Association (APA): http://www.apa.org
The Handbook of Person-Centred Psychotherapy and Counselling: Cooper, O’Hara, Schmid & Bohart, 2013.
The Irish Counsel for Psychotherapy: http://www.psychotherapycouncil.ie
The Mindful Way through Depression: Williams, Teasdale, Segal, Kabat-Zinn, 2007.