The information below is an extract taken from a booklet written by Ron Wood, Clinical Psychologist which looks at four basic principles of psychological therapy. These are set out below for the purpose of helping clients and therapists think about what therapeutic approach may be beneficial and what goals clients may have for their therapy. A preference from the client for one or more of the below may be helpful to discuss at the first session.

These are:

Being able to talk and feel heard and accepted.

A person may benefit from having someone to talk to who will not be overwhelmed by the distress or emotion expressed, who will not give advice nor attempt to impose his/her values and who will continue to be there for that person.

Changing habits.

A person may benefit from help in working systematically to change habits of thought, feeling or behaviour.

Resolving “unfinished emotional business”. 

A person may benefit from help in expressing and resolving or accepting the emotions resulting from overwhelmingly distressing events or circumstances in the distant or recent past.

Untangling webs of communication.

People may benefit from help in understanding and dealing with the web of communications between people in families and other groups.

The description above separates the Four Principles for theoretical clarity. In reality many therapeutic approaches combine these principles in differing proportions or with differing emphasis.

In seeking out a therapist for oneself, it would be informative to ask a prospective therapist about their approach and to consider what they say within the framework (of the four principles described here). Their way of working may fit closely with one of the four or might be seen to combine two or more principles in an eclectic or integrated approach. An eclectic approach involves shifting from one principle to another pragmatically; an integrated approach involves combining principles in one application that forms a synthesis.

From the point of view of the prospective client, that person might feel initially that they need a particular approach [say 2) Changing habits] and, after a while in therapy, might see the need for another approach – as well or instead – [say 3) Resolving “unfinished emotional business”]. They should be able to discuss this with their therapist who might offer a different approach themselves or recommend another therapist who can offer such an approach. They may suggest a fairly immediate change or they may suggest completing one phase of therapy before changing.

Whatever the circumstances the client’s (or prospective client’s) informed choice should be central to any decision about their therapy.

© Ron Wood 1995, 2003, 2005

Please see CBT and Counselling section for explanations of the different approaches. This may help you to match up your goals for therapy with an approach.