An American therapist and writer has launched a compelling critique of today’s psycotherapists. In an article that is both challenging and fascinating Douglas LeBier says that many therapists have not kept pace with social trends. The result is that often people are not helped at all by their therapy and some end up more troubled than when they began treatment.

LaBier acknowledges that there are many skilled and competent therapists (he includes psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers), and that research shows that psychotherapy can be very effective, but some practitioners don’t help people much. He says that some clients “struggle for years in therapy with one practitioner after another, and never seem to make any progress. Others resolve some conflicts, but then are hit with others that hadn’t been addressed.”

The reasons for this lack of effectiveness are threefold. The first is rooted in the kind of people therapists tend to be today, then there are the kinds of problems that people face now, and finally, and most critically, many therapists are simply out of step with what the goals of treatment should be in the 21st century.

We are all a product of our times. In the late 19th century when therapy started, practitioners understood and reflected the social values and morals of their age. They would understand the problems of their clients and frame treatment in a language that was acceptable to them at that time. While therapists readily accept these days that, for example, some of Freud’s ideas and explanations now appear way off the mark, they are nevertheless still operating out of a framework bequeathed to them by the early pioneers. In short, the values and worldview of today’s therapists  are out of step with what many clients bring to therapy – and expect from it – in our post modern world.

LaBier says that too few practitioners understand the realities of, say, the business and career world, the social and political aspects that really shape peoples’ lives, and the adaptations they have to make to function and survive. Since models of therapy are tacitly guided by a set of values and objectives from another age, many therapists are uncritically peddling ideas and ideals that lack pragmatism and do not respond to peoples’ needs now.

What needs to happen

Clients who are seeking therapy today are also consumers and as such should ask themselves some basic questions about their therapist says LaBier:

  • Does the therapist seem to enjoy his/her work? Or do they sound bored or depressed?
  • Does he or she convey a sense of humour?
  • Does he or she seem to have a broad, understanding perspective about the variety of human lives?
  • What experience and knowledge does he or she have regarding the impact of work and careers on people’s lives? Be wary if the therapist indicates that such familiarity is irrelevant to treatment.

This is an intelligent article. The author does not set out to ‘knock therapy’ but to provide a thought-provoking, pragmatic and reasoned critique which is overdue. As therapists we are supposed to be committed to our own continuing development and we should welcome it.  Speaking personally, I shall keep a copy in my office and re-read it regularly. I will also circulate it to as many therapists as I can. Please do the same.

See When Therapists Fail to Help: Here’s Why.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.