As I begin personal therapy at my graduate school student counseling center I realize that I am analyzing everything the therapist is saying. What is her theoretical orientation? Was that an open or closed question? Will we be goal setting? How much money does she make? Yes, I was more than a little “in my head” during that first session.
For years when I was in my twenties I went to therapy with a psychologist who was psychoanalytically oriented, although I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew I was experiencing a lot of difficulty in life and needed someone to talk to and work out my problems with and this therapist was available at my local mental health center.
I spoke a lot, she rarely did. I smiled nervously and often, she sat with a flat affect. I spoke of my dreams at length and about the intricacies of my childhood with her, albeit subdued, guidance. I made great insights into the serious issues I was facing at the time. I came to know why I was, well, the way I was – and to a certain extent, why I am the way I am currently. The insight has been priceless, but the therapeutic experience lacked direction and specifically lacked any kind of skill building to help integrate my insights into behavior change. Of course, not yet being a student of counseling I was unaware that other types of therapy existed and at the time psychoanalysis was all the rage. However, I keenly felt that something was missing and that thing was real-world application of what I discovered in session.
As I go through school and see, as both a healthcare consumer and a counselor-in-training, what modalities are reimbursed by insurance it is obvious that pure psychoanalysis is not made available to the masses as it was in the 80s. But I truly don’t want that road to insight and of the unconscious closed for good. There is so much to be gained by realizing your unconscious motivations and finding unhealthy patterns in your life that you can change.
Solution focused therapy and reality therapy certainly are amazingly useful methods to help clients improve their lives, but how can the road to the unconscious and the path to active creative change merge? Many therapists are doing just this. A wonderful starting point for those interested in an integrative approach is “Integrative and Eclectic Psychotherapy” edited by Stephen Palmer and Ray Woolfe. It covers the history of these approaches and each chapter is by a different author and puts forth a useful viewpoint.
As I look forward to working in a agency and eventually launching my practice I hope that in addition to goal setting and problem solving the unconscious can be tapped into and insight can be gained by my clients this way as well – even if the sessions are limited by the demands of managed care.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.