What is Great Therapy?


Have you been or are you currently in therapy? Did you get or are you getting what you want out of therapy? What makes for great therapy? I’ll share my perspective, which I’ve come to after twenty years in private practice.

To get the most out of therapy, clients need to make progress in several different areas. This requires the therapist to be experienced using a variety of modalities. And although there are many modalities, in the background of all of them, there are two fundamentally different theories. One is attachment theory, and the other is differentiation theory.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory basically tells a tale of how a lack of nurturance and healthy bonding with our mothers leads to life-long challenges, which can be addressed by working with a therapist who knows how to attune, nurture, and to some degree, re-parent the client. This helps the client heal from never feeling securely attached to their primary caregiver.

Differentiation theory

Differentiation theory suggests we need to separate from the people upon whom we were emotionally and physically dependent. We need to learn to soothe ourselves and hold onto ourselves, so that we create our own emotional security. Then, later, when we form appropriate dependencies on other people, we won’t have confusing emotional boundaries.

Therapists, who primarily focus on attachment theory, work to nurture their clients. Therapists, who primarily focus on differentiation theory, work to elicit maturity from their clients. The two approaches are very different. Great therapy incorporates both approaches.

Nature vs. Nurture

In addition to attachment theory and differentiation theory, there is also the age-old debate about nurture versus nature. Therapists who put more stock in nurture—our upbringing—strive to help their clients change. Therapists who put more stock in nature—our temperament—strive to help their clients develop acceptance, because temperament is not highly malleable.

Great therapy

Here’s my belief. Great therapy is holistic—not limited to one particular theory or approach—and it’s pervasive. No matter which way the client turns—sometimes in an attempt to avoid whatever makes them uncomfortable—the therapist is there to meet, accompany and when appropriate, confront the client. This means the therapist must have the capacity to nurture the client, the ability to help the client to mature, and the ability to help the client recognize, accept and value their temperament. When a therapist understands the limitations that are part the client’s temperament, the therapist will not support the delusion that “anything is possible.” Certain things are not possible, or realistic, for certain temperaments and what’s necessary is to help the client develop realistic expectations.

Perception Language

In addition to a holistic approach, there is one more thing required for great therapy. The therapist must know, and the client must learn, how to use language so that the client understands they are creating meaning for themselves. This is why Perception Language is so powerful. Not only does it make it clear that we each make our own meaning of every event, but it brings the client into the present moment and invites the client to break free of their fear-based-judgments.

So, whether you seek a therapist, teacher, or preacher, see if you can find one who is nurturing, elicits maturity, helps create realistic expectations, and is versed in Perception Language.




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