There are different schools of thought in the field of psychology, leading to a variety of psychotherapeutic approaches. These approaches differ from one another in terms of the theories on which they are based, the way in which they conceptualize psychological problems, the techniques used and their view of the therapeutic relationship. Although many different approaches exist, the four most commonly encountered are: psychodynamic analytical; cognitive-behavioural; existential-humanistic; and systemic-interactional.
It should be noted that many psychologists do not limit themselves to only one approach in their practice. In fact, many psychologists use ideas and techniques from a variety of approaches, depending on the presenting problems of the client.
THE PSYCHODYNAMIC-ANALYTICAL APPROACH - According to this approach, a psychological problem develops when a person acts without being conscious of his true motivations and fears. Psychologists influenced by this school of thought do not focus only on the problem the client initially presents, but also on the unconscious conflicts from the past which are at the root of the presenting problem. By becoming aware of these conflicts, the client comes to better understand why he acts in a particular way or feels certain emotions, thereby increasing his freedom of thought and the possibility for different choices
THE COGNITIVE-BEHAVIOURAL APPROACH - The cognitive-behavioural approach is based on the principle that if maladaptive behaviour can be learned, it can also be unlearned. According to this school of thought, attitudes, habits and negative thoughts are learned responses and the best way to eliminate them is to learn new, more constructive ones. Emphasis is placed on the present, the here-and-now. During therapy, the psychologist will help his client to become aware of his own thoughts and beliefs, and to replace them with more realistic evaluations and judgements.
THE EXISTENTIAL-HUMANIST APPROACH - Psychologists who adopt this approach base themselves on the therapeutic relationship as their primary tool for bringing about change. Engaging in a therapeutic relationship with an open, understanding and accepting psychologist will enable the client to have a new experience and discover who they are, see themselves as they really are, and in this way continue thier personal development which had been interrupted. Therapy does not focus on the past but on the present and generally on the client's current emotions and life.
THE SYSTEMIC-INTERACTIONAL APPROACH - According to this approach, a person's difficulties stem from his relationship with himself and others. A psychologistusing this approach helps his client understand the sometimes unconscious maladaptive patterns which harm his relationships and develop new, more healthy interactional patterns in his relationships with others.
(adapted from "Turn over a new leaf: Psychologists and Psychotherapy". A publication of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec)