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Becoming an Effective PsychotherapistReview - Becoming an Effective Psychotherapist
Adopting a Theory of Psychotherapy That's Right for You and Your Clien
by Derek Truscott
American Psychological Association, 2011
Review by Shannon Perkins, Ph.D.
May 3rd 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 18)

In "Becoming an Effective Psychotherapist," the author provides clear, understandable, introductory-level explanations of nine major systems of psychotherapy:  psychodynamic, behavioral, existential, person-centered, Gestalt, cognitive, systemic, feminist and constructivist.  Each chapter presents the basic foundation or essence of each system, covering the main theories and associated therapeutic practices. 

This book seems to be most appropriate for advanced undergraduate students studying psychology or related fields or beginning graduate students in psychology or counseling.  I also think this book would be perfect for beginning psychiatry medical residents, who may have had limited coursework in psychology.  In fact, I plan to use this book to help me teach a "Theories of Psychotherapy" course, which is taught in small-group format to first-year psychiatry residents.  For the first two years I taught the course, I have had the goal of presenting one theory each week in an hour-long seminar.  However, I have struggled to do this concisely and at times, I'm sure I have confused my students.  I plan to use the chapters in this book as a starting point and a guide to tell me what to include and what to omit when presenting my material.

Psychodynamic theory is a topic that I have particular difficulty in explaining briefly and concisely.  Truscott explains that "psychodynamic therapy is based on the premise that a satisfying and useful life comes from being honest with oneself."  He goes on to explain that being honest with oneself is not always easy, and that we tend to hide our undesirable feelings and motives from ourselves.  These feelings then become unconscious.  They enter conscious awareness only in modified form or when the conscious mind is weakened, such as while sleeping.  After this introduction, the reader has the basic foundation of psychoanalysis.  Interestingly, the author does not explicitly discuss defense mechanisms, although he does describe the basic process of a defense mechanism without using the term. Nor does he discuss the psychosexual stages of development, which I found surprising at first.  However, I think this is what makes this book so effective.  The author does not endeavor to cover every detail of these theories but presents only what is necessary for the student to grasp the basic ideas behind the theories.

I also found the author's coverage of Gestalt therapy to be helpful, particularly because I have never had a good grasp of this theory.  Truscott explains that, according to Gestalt therapists, "a human being is a unified whole that cannot be reduced to a simple summation of physical, biological, psychological or conceptual properties."  Distress occurs when we deny parts of our existence to ourselves, leading us to engage in self-destructive symptoms, like worrying or compulsive behavior.  The goal of Gestalt therapy is awareness.  Again, I think the author does a very effective job of explaining the theory on an elementary, understandable level, so that we are able to understand the rest of the theory and the therapeutic techniques or "games."

The other areas: cognitive, behavioral, person-centered, systemic, constructivist, and feminist are covered equally well.  I chose to focus more on psychodynamic and Gestalt chapters because, as a cognitive-behavioral health psychologist, these are my weakest areas.  Having read this book will enable me to teach these topics more effectively, focusing on the essentials while leaving out excessive details which may confuse and overwhelm beginning students.

 

A unique feature of this book is the learning exercises and reflective journals at the end of each chapter.  These features are intended to help the reader apply and deepen their understanding of each theory of psychotherapy, in order to ultimately help them choose the approach to psychotherapy that they choose to practice.  I especially liked this exercise at the end of the chapter on Person-Centered Therapy. 

"Try spending a day being fully available to everyone you meet.  In every encounter, whether in line at the grocery store, over the dinner table, on the telephone, or wherever you are.

1.  Be truly engaged.  Set aside distractions and pay attention to the

other person.

2.  Ask at least one question without being intrusive or judgmental

that offers the other person an opportunity to go deeper into their own experience.

3.  Avoid platitudes that deflect or belittle others' experiences.  When you ask someone, "How are you?", for example, ask in a manner that tells them you are sincere.

4.  If someone does or says something that upsets you, try being curious rather than furious.  Attend to them and to your own experience with openness, acceptance, and compassion."

This is a great exercise to help students learn how to put person-centered ideas into practice, as well as to remind experienced practitioners to go back to the basics.  Each chapter has an equally helpful exercise to help students get into the mindset of each theory.

Overall, I found this to be a concise and well-written introduction to the major theories of psychotherapy.  Students who read this book will have a solid grounding in the basics of these theories and will be well on their way to finding the therapeutic approaches that are a good fit for them as beginning practitioners.

 

© 2011 Shannon J. Perkins

 

Shannon J. Perkins, Summa Psychiatry Associates, Akron, OH


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