Brief History of Psychotherapy


Psychology has come a long way since Sigmund Freud established ‘Psychoanalysis’ in Vienna, in the 1880’s. Freud was originally a doctor of neurology yet it was through his skill as an observer of his patients that he began to evolve a different kind of work. Alongside this and the work of Freud’s many followers, ‘talking therapies’ emerged as a discipline in their own right. It is thanks to Freud that important concepts such as the ‘unconscious’ and ‘subconscious’, and the idea of psychological defences and complexes have become a part of modern day thinking and understanding.

Psychotherapy is the profession that offers many different kinds of talking therapies ranging from Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT) to Humanistic Therapies (such as Transactional Analysis or Gestalt). Some Psychiatrists are also trained therapists, but psychiatry is mainly concerned with offering clients a psychological diagnosis and medication as well as recommendations for further therapeutic input.

In practise today there are three main branches of psychology/psychotherapy with many different traditions within each branch. In this introduction two further branches have been added that have evolved from the Humanistic Approach. Even therapists with the same training will have a slightly different way of working because each person has their own style and expertise.

1. Psychodynamic Therapies

Therapists with this approach (which can be incredibly varied) originate from the ideas of Freud that have evolved enormously over the last 100 years.

The therapist will help the client to understand thoughts, feelings, relationships, behaviour, dreams and fantasies by working within the intense relationship that develops with the psychotherapist. The psychotherapist and the client explore the impact of early relationships with parents and carers, and how these may be connected to current issues in a client’s life.

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapies

These therapies are based on scientific methods and focus on behaviour. Clients are encouraged to challenge, and reflect on, their negative thoughts. Using different techniques offered by the therapist the client is encouraged to find ways to develop confidence, change their behaviour and improve the way they feel. This approach is often favoured within the NHS as it is usually short-term (6-24 sessions).

3. Humanistic Therapies

These therapies have developed as an alternative to psychodynamic and behavioural therapies and focus on developing a clients’ potential. By taking a whole-person approach they look at problems in a way that encourages a client to make positive choices and uncover their natural wellbeing.

Counselling would broadly come under this branch as this approach can be short or long term depending on the client. From this branch there are two further main offshoots.

4. Transpersonal

The transpersonal approach may be understood to incorporate all that has come before it with the additional element of what some might call ‘soul’, or, ‘spirit. It embodies the Greek word ‘psyche’ usually translated as mind or soul, with ‘therapeia’, understood to mean healing. It is an integrative approach that pays attention to a clients’ natural and ever-present health, as well as their presenting difficulty.

5. Psychospiritual

Psychospiritual psychotherapy is not in some ways so different to transpersonal. Indeed none of the mentioned categories are as distinct, discrete or mutually exclusive as they may initially seem. All forms of psychotherapy emphasise the importance of the relationship between the client and the practitioner.

Therapists practising within the psychospiritual model hold a belief that there is a larger dimension to reality than that of the client and the client’s personal suffering. It is understood that there is a greater intelligence, creative force or perhaps spirit that is present in the therapy room when working with a client. In fact within this tradition it may be said that a call for psychotherapeutic help is by its nature a spiritual call.

Core Process Psychotherapy falls within the psychospiritual approach, as it is based on a combination of Buddhist and western psychology. It also has a psychodynamic aspect, as it looks at ways in which early relationships, and even pre-natal experience, can affect the client’s current situation in life, and his or her relationships.

Overall, the very presence of such different approaches reflects the diversity of need, and of different ideas and philosophies about personal development and change. For example, at times it could be appropriate to receive short-term therapeutic input to help with a specific problem, and at other times a long-term psychotherapeutic relationship will provide the support that is truly required. Some people prefer to address specific problems, and others are interested in focussing on their personal growth so that they may fulfil more of their potential. If you are interested in finding out more about the Core Process approach, click here.