Five Counseling Theories and Approaches

Psychotherapy theories provide a framework for therapists and counselors to interpret a client’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings and help them navigate a client’s journey from diagnosis to post-treatment. Theoretical approaches are an understandably integral part of the therapeutic process. But with so many different methods out there, how do you know which counseling approach works best for you? Whether you’re a student learning about counseling theories or a client looking for the right therapist, the following detailed descriptions will give you a deeper understanding of each counseling method. These theories are integrated throughout the curriculum of Counseling@Northwestern and are built into a foundation grounded in the psychodynamic perspective.

Psychoanalysis/Psychodynamic Theory

Psychoanalysis or psychodynamic theory, also known as the “historical perspective,” has its roots with Sigmund Freud, who believed there were unconscious forces that drive behavior. The techniques he developed, such as free association (freely talking to the therapist about whatever comes up without censoring), dream analysis (examining dreams for important information about the unconscious), and transference (redirecting feelings about certain people in one’s life onto the therapist) are still used by psychoanalysts today.

Counseling@Northwestern uses this theory to train counselors, and it is embedded throughout the counselor training process. In general, psychotherapists and counselors who use this approach direct much of their focus and energy on analyzing past relationships and, in particular, traumatic childhood experiences in relation to an individual’s current life. The belief is that by revealing and bringing these issues to the surface, treatment and healing can occur. This theory is highly researched, and as the field of neuroscience advances, counselors are finding how psychodynamic theory can actually positively affect a client’s brain. Psychodynamic theory can be more time intensive in comparison to some short-term theories because it involves changing deeply ingrained behaviors and requires significant work on understanding one’s self.

Theoretical approaches
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