Person Centered Therapy

I started reading Whitaker and Malone’s 1953 The Roots of Psychotherapy last summer, on the advice of John Miller, one of the heads of my Couples and Family Therapy program. He hadn’t actually read it, but had had it so highly recommended to him by a respected colleague that John wished he had time to read it. It was a difficult read, especially in addition to my regular course-reading, but interesting to see what looked like Whitaker’s explanation of his transition from psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the experiential family therapy of his later career.  You can see elements of existential, experiential, and person-centered therapies emerging in Whitaker, all explained in Freudian language.

My outline is quite sloppy, thanks mostly to Open Office’s awful outlining capabilities, to inserting my own comments, and to my own lack of understanding at times, but the guts of the book as I did understand it are here. I don’t recommend reading it unless you are a therapy nerd, but if you are, and especially if you are interested in Carl Whitaker’s model of therapy and its origins, I do recommend it. In less than an hour you can get the basics and decide if the book is worth reading for you.

Posting about Albert Ellis yesterday reminded me of this cool film series made in 1965 called Three 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.