Three Approaches to Psychotherapy: A Film Series

[Reblogged from Nathen’s Miraculous Escape]

Posting about Albert Ellis yesterday reminded me of this cool film series made in 1965 calledThree Approaches to Psychotherapy. It shows three very famous therapists talking with the same client, named Gloria. First is Carl Rogers doing his non-directive Person Centered Therapy. Next is Fritz Perls doing his demanding-total-authenticity Gestalt therapy. (This was developed with his wife, Laura, making it the only one having significant female authorship.) Last is Albert Ellis doing his the-way-you-are-thinking-about-things-makes-you-unhappy Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

I don’t know how much of the following is true, but this is what I’ve heard: Part of the deal in making this film was that Gloria could choose a therapist based on her very short sessions with each of them. She chose Fritz Perls. Later, she struck up a friendship with Carl Rogers that lasted the rest of her short life. She died in her 50s.

Recent research on what makes therapy effective suggests that the style of therapy you use is not a major factor. It seems to do more with the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist and how much the client believes the therapy will help. In light of that it’s striking how different these approaches are. You will see what I mean.

Each therapist’s section is about 30 minutes. Each therapist presents his basic theory, talks with Gloria for a bit, and then talks about what he thinks he just did. Rogers’ is broken up into several clips–that’s the only way I could find it. Perls’ and Ellis’s videos are each in one piece, and from Google video instead of YouTube, so they take longer to load. You might let each of the longer clips run through before watching it to avoid it breaking up if you have a slow connection like I do.

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Albert Ellis’s 15 Irrational Ideas

Albert Ellis was one of the guys who invented cognitive therapy, which began as a kind of wacky-fringe psychotherapy in the 1950s and has grown to be one of the dominant and most-researched forms of therapy today. It’s effective and simple–easy to teach. Ellis’s version of cognitive therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, is alive and well too.

Ellis’s basic tenets were that thoughts or beliefs, not events, cause emotions and that irrational thoughts or beliefs cause our emotional problems. Most people think it’s their situations that are causing their problems, but Ellis said that we feel bad when our situation is in conflict with anirrational belief, and that it is the belief that makes us feel bad. So his style of therapy basically consisted of deconstructing people’s irrational thoughts and beliefs.

I think that he was right in a lot, though not all, cases. There are many other effective forms of therapy that, instead of cognitions, target behavior, emotions, social systems, or some combination of the four. There are also, of course, non-therapy interventions that aim to improve people’s psychological experience by targeting biological systems, like drugs or the prefrontal lobotomy, and interventions that target political systems–various kinds of activism.

But irrational beliefs are as good a place to start as any. Here is Ellis’s list of our major irrational ideas, quoted from Jacobs, Masson, & Harvill’s Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills (pp. 285-6). Keep in mind that these don’t usually exist as overt beliefs–you might have to dig to find them in yourself, running you.

Which few are your main irrational ideas?

1) It is a dire necessity for an adult human being to be loved or approved by virtually every other person in one’s life.

2) One should be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving in all possible respects if one is to consider oneself worthwhile.

3) Certain people are bad, wicked, and villainous and they should be severely blamed or punished for their villainy.

4) It is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way one would very much like them to be.

5) Human unhappiness is externally caused and people have little or no ability to control their sorrows and disturbances.

6) If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, one should be terribly concerned about it and should keep dwelling on the possibility of its occurring.

7) It is easier to avoid than face certain life difficulties and self-responsibilities.

8) One should be dependent on others and needs someone stronger than oneself on whom to rely.

9) One’s past history is an all-important determiner of one’s present behavior and because something once strongly affected one’s life, it should indefinitely have an effect.

10) There is invariably a right, precise, and perfect solution to human problems and it is catastrophic if this perfect solution is not found.

11) One should become quite upset over other people’s problems and disturbances.

12) The world should be fair and just and if it is not, it is awful and I can’t stand it.

13) One should be comfortable and without pain at all times.

14) One may be going crazy because one is experiencing some anxious feelings.

15) One can achieve maximum human happiness by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly enjoying oneself.

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, May 17, 2010.]