I recently attended a presentation by one of my colleagues called “The Art of Psychotherapy in Integrative Practice.” The presentation, and the conversation afterwards, was thought-provoking because it provided new insight that complements my own clinical background. While my doctoral training emphasized the importance of evidence-based practices, which represent a scientific approach to conducting psychotherapy, I believe that conducting psychotherapy is both an art and a science. That is the approach that I prefer to use, and the one that is most valuable to my clients. This blog is intended to educate potential clients, and anyone else interested in therapy, as to how psychotherapy functions as both an art and a science. Understanding therapy in this way will make it a more valuable and enriching experience.
THE SCIENCE OF THERAPY:
While popular culture is still determining whether or not psychology and its practice is technically a science, I would present the case that it is indeed a science if the therapist chooses to utilize its scientific virtues. Research continuously provides evidence in support of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive processing therapy for trauma (CPT), and exposure and response prevention (ERP) for phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When therapists have obtained proper training in any of these techniques, and clients are motivated and cooperative, the research validates their success. Not only does science support their effectiveness, but clients feel relief from their symptoms. This is very encouraging, especially after months or even years of suffering with emotional challenges that can be debilitating. Clients who seek treatment with therapists who utilize these strategies are more likely to return to therapy later if the challenges return. They find hope in their newly acquired emotional stability and higher level of functioning.*
However, as freeing as it feels for clients to experience a reduction in their anxiety, depression, and other emotional symptoms, implementing scientific strategies in therapy alone is not enough to result in long-term, positive mental health outcomes. People want to feel relief from their symptoms, that is true. But the manner in which those strategies are developed, and the relationship and sense of trust necessary for clients to engage in therapy, is even more important.
THE ART OF THERAPY:
Effective long-term therapy requires more than scientific training and being a good teacher of strategies. Crafting a relationship with a complete stranger where they develop trust in you as their therapist is indeed an art form. Not only do they trust you to give advice and to guide them in the process of healing, but they also trust you with long held fears, embarrassing details, and other secrets. If the therapist asks too many questions, too quickly, it may invoke greater fear and anxiety. If a therapist makes suggestions that are taken, and they backfire, this may compromise trust. Thus, the timing in therapy is one aspect that represents the art of conducting a meaningful session. When adding individual touches like humor into a therapy session, you have to take into account the individual preferences of each client. The therapist must know the client well before engaging in advice-giving, humor, or other personal touches. This is the hardest work for the therapist to achieve.
Finding ways to connect, emotionally, with a range of individuals and maintaining a rapport that prevents sessions from becoming stale and unproductive are factors that you can’t learn by reading a book or even entirely through graduate training. Truthfully, there are therapists much more gifted the art of psychotherapy, and others who are well-versed in the scientific discipline of evidence-based approaches to treatment. I believe that clients are in need of both the scientific and the artistic aspects of psychotherapy. Integrating the art of building a relationship with the use of practical strategies is the approach that my clients deserve. This is the kind of therapy that grows the integrity of the mental health profession and the one that will result in the promotion of long-term mental health and well-being.
*If you’re interested in learning more about evidence-based therapy, check the Resources section on my website: http://www.drcarlamessenger.com/resources .