In Therapy

A user's guide to psychotherapy

The Ten Coolest Therapy Interventions: Introduction

The coolest therapy interventions

Clients talk, therapists listen. That's just the beginning. Most clinicians have a few tricks up their sensitive, rational and insightful sleeves.

I hereby launch another big series, this one honoring a vital component of psychotherapy: the therapeutic intervention. I chose the ten coolest then interviewed the leading experts for each one.

The first thing most psych graduate students learn is how to listen. They study Carl Rogers and others who poured the foundation of the therapeutic relationship with the concept of respectful, empathic and reflective listening. While this is helpful, some clients want more than listening. They want a powerful experience, a deep insight or some tool that provides answers. Many psychological theories address problems on this more tangible and profound level.

See All Stories In

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Techniques are hailed as vehicles of epiphany by believers and panned as corny gimmicks by cynics. They add dimension and texture to the work, stretching therapy beyond a friendly ear toward a dynamic, transformative process. They're the practical application of psychological theory that creates a turning point for many seeking answers.

For some, techniques are what make therapy meaningful. Others just want to talk and be heard so techniques/interventions get in the way. Which brings me to an important point: this is all incredibly subjective. Some clients work best in a technique-free environment, others thrive in therapy heavy on gizmos. And some gizmos work better for some people than others. Like many elements of therapy, it's a matter of a good fit rather than the One True Best Way to do things. 

Rather than give a cursory review of all contemporary psychotherapy techniques, I thought a list of the Ten Coolest would be more interesting. Absurd, given what I just said about subjectivity, but interesting. Now to define cool in this context. In order to qualify as a cool intervention, each must have the following:

  • Creativity: innovation beyond convention to find a solution
  • Boldness: strong conviction the technique has profound results
  • Compassion: directed at healing pain or dysfunction
  • Mystery: mechanism for change is not always obvious
  • A Cool Name: I'm not sure why, but this tends to be true

Let's also note what I'm not talking about: effectiveness outcomes. I don't want to get into that here. I'll let the bean counters and hall monitors from EBT make their own boring top ten. These interventions have worked powerfully for some people some of the time; I'll leave their validity at that. I'm a therapist and I don't even use most of them, I just think they're cool.

I selected the list then put on my investigative reporter hat to find experts who could tell us more about each one. If you're a therapist, professor, client or a grad student you'll probably be able to guess a few selections, but I doubt you'll guess all ten. My hope is this list will help broaden your idea of psychotherapy. And show how cool it really can be.

***This series is for entertainment and basic educational purposes only. My mission for this blog has always been to demystify elements of therapy so it becomes more accessible to the general public. Reading these blurbs is no substitute for the dozens to thousands of hours of training it takes to effectively and ethically apply them. If you're a therapist and find an intervention interesting, please get adequate training before attempting. If you're not a therapist, please seek out a clinician with sufficient training in that specialty. Unless otherwise specified, do not try this at home!

Here are the Ten Coolest Therapy Inventions (10CTI). Click through to each full post and interview:

10. The Miracle Question
9.   The Empty Chair
8.   Paradoxical Interventions
7.   Voice Dialogue
6.   The Hunger Illusion
5.   Head-On Collision
4.   Sandplay
3.   Primal Therapy
2.   Virtual Reality
1.   Transference Interpretation

And one final post to summarize, list the honorable mentions and wrap up.

Have a different opinion? Totally disagree? Made your own Top 10? Let me know. 

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

more...

Subscribe to In Therapy

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.