What Is Eclectic Therapy?

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What Is Eclectic Therapy?

Eclectic therapy is an approach that draws on multiple theoretical orientations and techniques. It is a flexible and multifaceted approach to therapy that allows the therapist to use the most effective methods available to address each individual client's needs. It is also sometimes referred to as multi-modal or integrative therapy.

In the early part of the 20th century, many therapists rigidly adhered to a single style of treatment. Over the last decade, more therapists started to draw ideas from different therapeutic approaches.

Research suggests that most psychotherapists today take an eclectic or integrative approach. One survey of professionals found that only 15% used a single theoretical model and that the median number of orientations used in practice was four.

Types of Eclectic Therapy

A number of specific types of eclectic therapy have also emerged. In each case, these approaches draw from a range of techniques in order to address the unique needs of the individual. Some of these types include:

  • Brief eclectic therapy: As the name suggests, this is a short-term form of eclectic therapy that often incorporates aspects of psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral treatments that are applied over a limited number of sessions, often to address a specific problem. This approach has been used to treat PTSD by helping people make meaning out of their traumatic experience and develop new coping strategies.
  • Cognitive-interpersonal therapy: This approach utilizes aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy to help people understand how their thoughts influence their relationships.
  • Multi-modal therapy: This type draws on elements of social-cognitive learning theory and integrates a number of techniques from other therapies. An individual's specific needs are assessed by looking at their behavior, affect, senses, visualizations, cognition, relationships, and physical health. 
  • Transtheoretical therapy: This approach focuses on understanding the stages and process of making a change. Using this knowledge, people are then able to work on achieving their goals, improving their relationships, and creating positive changes in their lives.

Techniques

While eclectic therapy is flexible, therapists carefully create an intentional, individual plan for each client based on that person's unique needs. Theoretical approaches that an eclectic therapist might draw on include:

A therapist will also choose specific techniques from within that theoretical approach. Some examples of such techniques include exposure therapy, sensory therapy, relaxation therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness.

What Eclectic Therapy Can Help With

Eclectic therapy can be utilized to help people with a wide range of needs. Some conditions and problems it can successfully treat include:

Benefits of Eclectic Therapy

Eclectic therapy can have a number of important benefits. These include:

  • Individualized approach: Because this approach to therapy is so adaptable, your therapist can design a treatment plan that is suited to your specific, unique needs.
  • Engagement: The use of multiple techniques may help people feel more interested and engaged in the therapy process. 
  • Flexible: Because your therapist can assess your needs and select the approaches and techniques they think will help you the most, it is possible to switch between techniques to address one or more needs. For example, your treatment might involve treating a phobia but also address problems with chronic stress.

Effectiveness

Research suggests that eclectic therapy can be both a safe and effective treatment:

  • Eclectic therapy has been described as an effective therapeutic approach to address selective mutism, an anxiety disorder in children in which there is a consistent failure to speak in specific social situations. This treatment involved drawing on psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, and family theories and interventions.
  • In a study published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, researchers integrated elements from psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral approaches to create a successful eclectic treatment program for PTSD.
  • A 2017 study found that an eclectic approach using art therapy and CBT was effective for improving mental health and reducing anxiety in children.

Things to Consider

While eclectic therapy can be effective, there are some potential downsides to consider. Some issues you might encounter during eclectic therapy include:

  • Lack of structure: If you tend to prefer a more structured, easy-to-follow approach, you might find eclectic therapy more difficult. In such cases, talk to your therapist about devising a more predictable structure.
  • Trial-and-error: It may also seem at times that you are following a trial-and-error approach. While trying different tactics can help you find what works for you, it can also be frustrating and time-consuming.
  • Not ideal for some conditions: For certain conditions that tend to respond best to a specific type of therapy (such as exposure therapy for phobias or dialectical behavioral therapy for borderline personality disorder), it is often a better idea to primarily stick to that specific treatment modality.
  • Insurance coverage: The rise of HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) and managed care approaches to healthcare has furthered the eclectic therapy movement. In order to receive insurance reimbursement, therapists may have to document a variety of empirically supported techniques often drawn from different theoretical orientations. Insurance concerns may play a role in the type of treatments your therapist utilizes. Since eclectic therapists focus on using research-validated techniques, however, it is still likely that many treatments will be covered by your insurance.
  • Therapist training: Some therapists adhere largely to a single orientation, such as ​psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral theory, but may actually use a variety of techniques rooted in other theories as needed. Others self-identify as eclectic in their treatment orientation. Either way, it is important that the therapist possesses a solid understanding of each theory for the techniques they use.

How to Get Started

If you are interested in trying eclectic therapy, consider asking your doctor for a referral or look at an online therapist directory. Eclectic therapists often refer to themselves as integrative therapists or multi-modal therapists, so you might consider searching for those or similar terms. You might also consider online therapy as an option.

During your first appointment, your therapist will ask you questions to help get to know you and understand your goals. This initial discussion might involve talking about your background, work, personal life, support system, and current life satisfaction. 

As you build a therapeutic relationship, you can then delve deeper toward making goals and deciding which techniques might be the most effective for what you want to accomplish. Because eclectic therapy is adaptable, these goals and strategies can change when needed.

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