The Case for Eclecticism

The benefits of using one modality are usually outweighed by its limitations.

Posted Aug 31, 2017

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Many psychotherapists, counselors, and coaches feel comforted by having a theoretical framework from which to operate. It’s a scaffolding onto which they can hang their own ideas as applicable to the client.

That’s understandable but too limiting. Alas, the field of psychotherapy as well as counseling and coaching are still in adolescence. So no one model is so potent and widely applicable as to outweigh eclecticism’s advantages. Can cognitive-behavioral therapists claim in their heart of hearts that a high-enough percentage of clients are sufficiently ameliorated by correcting erroneous thinking? Can psychoanalysts claim that Freudian principles sufficiently address client malaise? Can Rogerian-types assert that active listening is sufficient?

Even so-called counseling “rules” have too many exceptions. For example, can mental health professionals unequivocally embrace no advice-giving and no personal disclosures by the therapist? Haven’t we, as patients, clients, or friends sometimes benefited from our counterpart’s personal disclosure or advice-giving, even if unsolicited?

One of the mental health profession’s assets is its wide toolkit, not just the above, but, for example, behaviorism’s rewards and punishment, Perls’-inspired gestalt exercises such as role-playing and improvisation, bibliotherapy, bodywork, and even music, play, horticultural and animal-assisted techniques.

Of course, eclecticism’s benefits aren’t limited to psychotherapy. As a career counselor, my clients’ results are much improved by my not starting from a single theoretical framework. Before a first session, usually (but even there, I don’t slavishly follow a procedure,) I have my clients complete a long, probing questionnaire that addresses everything from family issues to self-assessment of abilities, skills, values, preferences, and networking assets, plus their positive and negative emotional factors. The client emails me the questionnaire in advance of our first session so I can reflect on it and, only then, based not on some a priori model but on the questionnaire, do I develop a tentative plan for our first session. And that plan is totally subject to revision or even reinvention based on what the client says and shows in the session and what I intuit is underneath. I am convinced that such broad eclecticism is both helpful to clients and freeing for me. I’ve had 5,200 clients over 30 years, yet still look forward to and enjoy nearly every session.

The takeaway

Are you too adherent to a particular modality?  If so, what one branch-out might you want to experiment with?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at