Tuesday, February 21, 2012



The varying ideas and beliefs of counseling modalities greatly influence the manner and approach in which therapists help clients. Therapists need to use the theoretical approach most suited to each individual client’s issues to be most effective.

Cognitive Model

The cognitive model is one of the more popular theoretical models used by therapists. Cognitive therapy is brief, focused, time limited, and only deals with the presenting problem.

The major focus of cognitive therapy is on thinking patterns and their modifications. It also focuses on taking new ideas and acting them out. By examining the dysfunctional thinking and self-defeating thought patterns that keep clients from improving, therapists help clients create more satisfying relationships and functional lives.

Behavioral Model

The behavioral model helps clients through demonstrating accurate listening, concern, caring, acceptance, and understanding of the client as a unique person. For therapists to maximize their helping potential, they must first develop positive relationships with their clients, thereby ensuring greater understanding of clients’ issues and which intervention strategies to develop.

By involving clients in goal setting, therapists also provide them with enough motivation to succeed in acquiring adaptive and functional behaviors. Modern day therapists involve clients in the analysis, planning, process, and evaluation of their behavior management program.

Psychodynamic Model

Psychodynamics attempts to help clients by discovering how their past influences the present. Therapists using this approach often use free association as a tool as an aid to understanding past influences. Orthodox psychoanalysis gives special attention to sexual development during the Oedipal period. However, Jungians search for cultural archetypes in history that determine how we live our lives today, and family therapy explores how intergenerational family issues affect our present condition.

Existential Model

The existential model focuses on the meaning of human existence. Existentialism purports that people are responsible for their own lives. Using the existentialist approach, therapists help clients learn to drop their masks and become more open and self-trusting.

To help accomplish the aim of existential therapy, therapists demonstrate unconditional positive regard and empathetic understanding of clients’ internal frame of reference. Clients can become more mature and self-integrated through therapists’ reflecting clients’ feelings.

Family Systems Model

Family therapy has been compared by therapists as simultaneously running a circus with different acts. In the family systems model, therapists follow sequential stages in their attempt to help clients.

The first stage involves the first contact therapists have with their clients. During the first contact with family members, therapists connect with each person in a way that is intimate and meaningful. The second stage requires the therapist to become part of the family through trust and confidence-building with all family members. In this stage therapists use warmth, authority, and interpersonal skills to create connections with each family member.


While each theoretical approach and modality has its advantages and disadvantages, it is imperative that therapists choose the approach most suited to clients’ issues. For example, while there are some similarities, there are important differences between behavioral theory and existential theory. 

Behavioral approaches work best with clients who are more rigid in their thought patterns, are more comfortable with structure, and are very goal-oriented. Existential approaches work best with clients who are above average in intelligence, are comfortable with the more gray areas of life, and who are have good communication skills.

Behaviorism and existentialism are alike in that both theories encourage establishing a more humanistically-oriented, warm, genuine, and generally positive relationship with clients, influenced by respect and unconditional regard for clients. Rapport with clients is an essential requirement for building a solid therapeutic foundation in both approaches. However, while behaviorism strives to be structured, concrete, immediate, and focus on goal-setting, existentialism is very flexible in focusing on abstract, philosophical constructs that influence meaning in clients’ lives.

A behavioral approach is therapist-directed, whereas existentialism lets clients decide the flow of their sessions. Behaviorism’s focus on goals contrasts with existentialism’s focus on clients’ beliefs about life and relationships and letting clients’ discover themselves through dialog and introspection. Finally, behaviorism focuses on the extrinsic or outside world and behavior, while existentialism concerns itself mainly with the intrinsic or internal world of clients, their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

While both approaches have the goal of alleviating clients’ suffering, their methods are very different. Yet, each is a valid approach, depending on the type of client, their issues, time allowed for therapy. Therefore, all theoretical approaches can be useful if applied appropriately. It is therapists’ responsibility to be knowledgeable about the commonly used modalities so that they know how, when and with whom to apply a particular therapeutic approach, thereby maximizing their therapeutic potential.


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