- By Ian Bradley
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I’m a skeptic at heart when I hear about exaggerated claims to psychotherapies be they old or new. This past week, two came into view. The first arrived in the form of a book from a client extolling Adlerian therapy -The Courage to be Disliked By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. The second, Compassion Therapy derived from a student’s presentation in my McGill class.
I enjoyed reading the Adlerian book partially because of the novel format involving a compelling dialogue between a young man and a philosopher who outlined the theory and practice of Adlerian therapy. The book was a trove of great ideas expressed in catchy lines such as:
“ resistance to change is nothing more than inertia” or
“Being a slave to one’s temptations and impulses is like living like a stone rolling downhill, real freedom is like pushing up one’s tumbling self from below.”
I had always liked Adler’s ideas in contrast to Freud since I think that we are creatures more driven by striving – what Adler calls a sense of superiority” than by Freudian drives of aggression and sex. In addition, all CBT therapists owe a debt of gratitude to Adler’s pioneering ideas on constructivism where every event, including trauma, gains meaning through a personal, and therefore an alterable lens of perception.
Further parallels with CBT are reflected in the book’s title – The Courage to be Disliked- expressing the underlying importance of self direction:
If you are disliked by others, it proves that you are living a life of freedom. Freedom is being unconcerned about the judgments of others, one has no fear of being disliked by others.
However, the authors infer that their approach is not only right but universally applicable to all problems in living.
Nice idea if it were true – perhaps then clinical training of doctoral students could be considerably contracted to maybe a handful of books. But in my experience, striving for yourself while letting others, including children, learn to strive for themselves, not be core issues in each and every client.
Shortly after finishing the book, a student in my McGill seminar educated me in Compassion Focused Therapy espoused by Dr. Gilbert. Acolytes to this approach were very clear about their path to therapeutic success. Get clients to forgive themselves and others, and you’re pretty much done.
I have selected just two therapy schools-but in reality there are hundreds with the proponents of each claiming novelty and revolutionary results. Ardent Adlerians or caring compassionants are only the tip of the iceberg but each offers only a limited view and range of interventions.
In my experience no one therapy or approach covers the problems that I see in my practice. In contrast, I try to draw upon all areas of psychology from neuroscience to sports psychology to draw upon ideas that might fit the problem at hand. I try to first listen and then pick the theory and technique that might work – not the other way around where clients are often ill-fitted to procrustean beds of compatibility.
This generalist approach might not have a marketable name but I worry that over specialization presents its unique pitfalls.