In Therapy

A user's guide to psychotherapy

The Seven Questions Project: Introduction

Same seven questions, different psychotherapists

Let's see what happens when I present the same seven questions to big names in the world of psychotherapy.

This project was inspired by the Gloria videos Three Approaches to Psychotherapy I recently re-discovered on Youtube. For those who weren't psych nerds in college, this 1965 cinematic gem follows a 30 year-old woman through sessions with three master therapists: Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls and Albert Ellis. Psych majors watch the Gloria tapes to help clarify the differences between therapeutic modalities and see theory put into practice. The videos are classic - they're like Mad Men meets In Treatment meets reality TV. Everyone chain smokes and Fritz tells Gloria to go cry in the corner.

Beyond the rich entertainment value, the Gloria film is an interesting study: one subject, three different treatments. With Gloria as the constant, the only difference between sessions must be due to the clinician - or more accurately, the interaction between Gloria and the clinician. It's really an excellent teaching tool.

I want to teach something similar with this blog. I'd like readers to discover the diversity of therapeutic styles and variety of personalities in this field. The terms therapist and psychotherapy represent a huge spectrum of people and ideas. I'd update the Gloria film, but I'm no filmmaker and have no budget, so that's out. I chose instead to make the most of the Internet and ask some busy professionals for a few moments of their time.

I contacted several influential psychotherapists, from living legends to high-ranking officials to best-selling pop-psych authors. I sent each an email with seven questions regarding their approach to psychotherapy. To my delight, I've had a 50% response rate so far, a respectable number in this field. I kept the questions brief, simple and open-ended to allow them to write as much or as little as they wanted:

  1. How would you respond to a new client who asks: "What should I talk about?"
  2. What do clients find most difficult about the therapeutic process?
  3. What mistakes do therapists make that hinder the therapeutic process?
  4. In your opinion, what is the ultimate goal of therapy?
  5. What is the toughest part of being a therapist?
  6. What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of being a therapist?
  7. What is one pearl of wisdom you would offer clients about therapy?

These seven rather generic questions pulled something distinct from each therapist based on his or her experience, therapeutic style and personality. Examine and compare the answers in the coming weeks. Some are brief, some verbose. Some provide personal information, others keep it clinical. Some answers are practical, others theoretical. I even think some were irritated by a question or two. Compare the answers and you'll get a taste of the diversity within the field of psychotherapy.

I hope you enjoy the Seven Questions project. For me, this endeavor has been a blast - it's even provided one of the greatest thrills of my professional career. To build dramatic tension, I'll reveal that thrill later. In fact, I'll keep all my guests a secret. Some you'll recognize, others you won't, but each have an informed, experienced, unique voice. I'm honored they were willing to participate. I'll post every Wednesday until I run out.

Update: The Project is now complete, check here for the full summary

 

Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

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