Psychotherapy is a general term referring to the use of talk therapy for mental health disorders. These days, psychotherapy is often used interchangeably with other types of therapy. Using words to express your feelings, problems, and family history is what psychotherapy is all about. This blog explores the history of psychotherapy, different types of therapy, and the future of therapy beyond the pandemic of 2020.
Psychotherapy: The Beginning
Sigmund Freud—the First Therapy
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, was born around the year 1900. Dr. Sigmund Freud set up a practice based on analyzing patients’ dreams, thoughts, and stories, in an effort to eliminate various forms of mental illness. Freud’s psychosexual theory of development arose from his Victorian culture and class, as well as his interest in Greek mythology. Freud’s female patients were often suffering from psychosomatic ailments stemming from early childhood sexual trauma, which, unfortunately, was so frequent and so (to him) unbelievable, that he put their stories and memories down to flights of hysterical imagination. Unfortunately, his theory of normal, healthy human development arose from his patients’ experiences of childhood abuse—cases that were anything but healthy.
Most modern-day therapists don’t endorse Freud’s original ideas of human development. However, it’s interesting to note that every introductory psychology class begins with Freud, as he is considered the father of psychotherapy.
Carl Jung—The Creative and Collective Life
One of Freud’s early colleagues, Carl Gustav Jung, later disagreed with Freud’s psychosexual theory, creating his own theories of development, illness, and healing. The Jungian analysis focuses on the creativity of the patient as well as the therapist, and the idea that we all share unconscious images (called archetypes) and dream symbolism. Many of his ideas are still in use today.
One of the important concepts Jung brought to therapy was the idea of the “collective unconscious”— that there are hidden beliefs or ideas that we’re born with which arise in daily life without our awareness. Jung believed that we all share deep, pre-conscious assumptions and ideas, and these assumptions influence our lives. Symbols and archetypes arise from the collective unconscious throughout human culture. For example, the concepts of mothers or of gods.
Jungian therapy and Freudian analysis both advocate for the use of therapy to uncover childhood experiences that have caused the patient distress.
How Psychotherapy Changed
Early psychotherapy operated on the idea that if a subconscious experience were brought into consciousness, the client could be healed. Unfortunately, as later therapists have discovered, simply making the unconscious conscious doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, and in cases of trauma, may even make it worse.
Psychotherapy historically relied on the expertise of the therapist— the patient was expected to trust the therapist (or be considered “resistant”), to be absolutely open and frank (while the therapist usually said very little, and often sat behind the patient, out of sight), and to do what s/he was told. If the patient was healed, it would be because of the therapist’s brilliant deductions. The unequal power distribution in therapy allowed unethical therapists to use clients in unhealthy ways. Today, ethical treatment is an important part of the therapeutic relationship balanced.
Part II: Modern Types of Therapy and Counseling
Behavior-based types of therapy arose from scientific research on rewards and punishment, at first with animals, and later with humans. In the 1950s-60s, behaviorism was a favored type of counseling; psychologists wanted to believe that, if you treated people in a standardized way, they would respond in a predictable manner. However, behaviorism didn’t take into consideration the vast range of differences in our lives, and how individuals think and feel about their unique life experiences.
Aspects of behavioral research are still in use today, often in treating phobias and addictions. However, they’re usually tied to other therapeutic models that recognize the importance of peoples’ thoughts and feelings, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
In general, strictly behavioral models ignore important factors in our lives. Our behavior is an outcome of not just reacting, but of our individual history, feelings, and thoughts. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), created by Albert Ellis as Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, was one of the first that added in the vital element. CBT focuses on recognizing the thought processes involved in creating, maintaining, and changing our behavior. CBT is widely used in short-term therapy, as its effects have been supported by numerous well-designed studies.
Group counseling is often used when people would benefit from the support or challenge of working with others. It can also be used in circumstances where individual therapy isn’t affordable. Self-help groups such as 12-step programs use group meetings to provide support. Some therapists also lead groups focused on particular problems, such as depression. The power of group work is in the capacity of group members to give each other feedback and support. Group work is especially useful in helping people negotiate new ways of behaving in relation to others. One highly specialized and important form of group therapy is family counseling.
Family Therapy: Recognizing the Importance of Context
Early family therapy, essentially created and promoted by therapist Virginia Satir (1916-1988), recognized not only the importance of how the family system functions, but also how family members influence one another’s feelings and behavior.
Understanding the context of the individual family meant recognizing how change influences behavior from every family member. Any change, however positive, is a threat to the system, and every family member reacts to the new behavior from their place in the system. Satir demonstrated how working with the entire family allows the therapist to influence healthy change in the family system as it readjusts to new member actions.
Humanistic or “Client-Centered” Counseling
Starting in the 1940s and until his death in 1987, a humanistic therapist named Carl Rogers changed the rules of traditional psychotherapy by insisting that the therapist’s primary task was not to tell the patient (or client) what was wrong and should be fixed, but to allow the patient to explore his or her own ideas and feelings in a supportive environment. Rogers did not interpret clients’ feelings or actions; he only asked them questions that encouraged them to more deeply explore themselves. In refusing to be the all-knowing expert, Rogers created a radical departure from traditional therapy.
The therapist, Rogers maintained, could best help clients (note that the term “patient” begins to disappear) by being transparent, supportive, and compassionate. The client holds the answers to the problems: the therapist’s job isn’t interpretation, but to create a safe atmosphere that lets clients do that work. Rogers called his therapy “client-centered”, allowing clients equal power in the therapeutic relationship.
New Kinds of Therapy
In the past 50 years, dozens of therapy types have arisen, based on theories and observations of the brain, on how the mind works, and on the thought and behavioral processes of particular disorders. Mindfulness has taken the therapy world by storm as researchers discover the importance and difficulty of maintaining peace and focus on the present. Neurological therapies such as tapping and EMDR, music, mantras, and yoga are also being seriously studied for depression, anxiety, trauma, and stress relief.
The Mind-Body Connection
One big discovery in recent years is the importance of the vagal nerve, which controls our stress and relaxation responses and in turn controls the release of stress hormones. Modern research is drawing together the scientific evidence that our minds and bodies are so interconnected, that one can make the other sick or well. Psychotherapy is no longer just exploration and healing of the mind; it’s an important part of a larger healing process that impacts the body.
There is so much more to discover as research continues to unfold around psychotherapy and mental health. Stay tuned as Watch Media Group continues to deep dive into the research and look out for the upcoming book, Watching Worry, focused on treatment for anxiety disorders. Visit Watch Media Group’s book ghostwriting services to get started in becoming the expert on your own topic and tell your own story without lifting a finger.