This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 13 table of contents.

Eclecticism in Therapy

In the 1940s and 1950s psychologists who practiced therapy usually identified themselves with a particular "school." They were Rogerian or Adlerian or Freudian. By the 1970s increasing numbers of psychologists were willing to use ideas from more than one school. This is called the eclectic orientation. Eclectic means drawing from many different sources.

What is eclecticism? Why do therapists avoid the label?

An eclectic therapist uses whatever approach seems appropriate. At first glance that seems obviously to be a good idea. However, therapists are reluctant to actually label themselves as "eclectic." Perhaps it sounds too wishy-washy or insufficiently focused, like saying, "I can do it all" or "I will use whatever works." Despite a widespread belief among therapists themselves that many practice eclecticism, the actual number of psychotherapists who label themselves eclectic has remained low, around 10%.

What did Lazarus call his type of therapy?

While psychologists are wary of the "eclectic" label, most would probably agree with therapists like Arnold Lazarus who said it was important to match the right treatment to a problem. Lazarus is one of those who did not use the word eclectic. He called his approach multi-modal therapy, meaning that he used several different approaches to help a client. That is eclecticism.

What is the EBP movement and how does eclecticism mesh with it?

Eclecticism may be the inevitable result of looking for the best possible treatment for each specific problem. If desensitization is the best treatment for phobias, then even a Rogerian therapist should learn about desensitization. If Rogerian therapy works best when people are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, then even an REBT practitioner might want to know about Rogerian techniques. This attitude is in accord with the evidence-based practice (EBP) movement, "a public health agenda that calls on practitioners to use the best available scientific evidence as a basis for formulating treatments for individual clients" (DeAngelis, 2005).

How are HMOs pushing therapists toward eclecticism?

In the end, a sophisticated matching of specific problems to specific treatments, without regard to "school" or origin, seems the inevitable outcome of a maturing science of therapy or counseling. A big push in this direction is coming from HMOs (Health Management Organizations). Before they reimburse a therapist for treatment, they want proof that the treatment is the right one for the patient's problem. Increasingly, therapists who want their services to be covered by health insurance policies will be required to defend their choice of treatment as the most appropriate treatment for the problem. That implies that therapists will have to achieve expertise in a variety of techniques, so they can offer specific treatments approved by insurance companies.

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