Gridlock and divisiveness have become the norm on our national political stage. As a result, any substantial progress on major issues that are salient to working Americans, small businesses, Wall Street, immigrants, and many others, remains stalled. It is as if our politicians, many of whom first pursued elected office in the interest of public service, have forgotten why they got involved in the first place. Just as Republicans and Democrats have allowed dogma to impede their ultimate goal of bettering our country, mental health professionals have fallen into a similar trap.
Most psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, and counseling professionals initially pursued careers in patient care, teaching and research in order to transform people’s lives for the better. Despite this initial motivation, many of us have become so whetted to our theoretical perspectives that we have experienced our own kind of gridlock that threatens our ability to serve those who seek relief from distress. Two theories - cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic - dominate the mental health landscape today. They are often pitted against one another in randomized control trials, conferences, seminars, graduate education, and in clinics and consulting rooms across the globe. Rather than focusing on what works for whom and how we might learn from perspectives that differ from our own, we have become overly invested in the horse race of proving that one perspective is simply “better” than the other. Our identities have simply become too tied up in our professional affiliations.
Like boxers at each corner of the ring preparing for a fight, we have spent too much time shoring up our own positions. Instead, mental health professionals should engage in some of the following professional activities in order to bridge the gap:
- Read contemporary and well-respected texts from other perspectives
- Attend seminars on techniques and approaches that differ from their own
- Consult books and journals that focus on theoretical integration
- Collaborate with colleagues with advanced training in other paradigms
- Seek consultation on cases from psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral colleagues, as well as those from family systems, existential, biological, and other perspectives
We have an ethical obligation to provide treatment that works and to equip trainees with a wide range of therapeutic interventions, tailored to meet the needs of each client. Our book, Essential Interviewing & Counseling Skills: An Integrated Approach to Practice, attempts to bridge the long-standing chasm between cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic approaches. The purpose of my collaboration with co-author Dr. Melanie J. Wadkins, was to produce a text for mental health professionals in training that would provide a truly balanced introduction to the major perspectives without sacrificing scientific rigor or the richness of each theory.