Approaches to Psychotherapy

Biomedical and psychotherapy are two basic approaches to treating psychological disorders. A number of approaches fall under the category of psychotherapy, but they all include the following four essential characteristics:

  1. Systematic interaction between a client and a therapist
  2. Based on psychological theory and research
  3. Influences a client’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior
  4. Used in treating disorders, adjustment problems, and to foster personal growth

Briefly explain the biomedical approach as well as the psychodynamic, humanistic existential, behavior, and cognitive approaches to psychotherapy listed in your text.

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Biomedical approaches to psychological problems utilize drug therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and in some cases psychosurgery. Drug therapy entails using psychotropic drugs in order to treat psychological disorders. Electroconvulsive therapy uses controlled electric shocks passed through the temples in order to relieve severe depression. Psychosurgery, a prefrontal lobotomy, is rarely used these days, but at one time was widely used to treat severe cases of obsessive-compulsive behavior. 


Psychodynamic therapies fall into four broad categories: traditional psychoanalysis, free association, transference, and dream analysis. Traditional psychoanalysis focuses on the I.D./Ego subconscious conflict of Freudian psychology. Free association is the stereotype for psychoanalysis comprised of a client lying on a couch and uttering whatever enters their conscious mind. Transference is when a client superimposes feeling on the therapist that is normally associated with someone else. Dream analysis entails interpreting dreams in order to better understand the unconscious. Modern psychodynamic techniques center, not so much on the I.D./Ego struggle, but on the ability of the ego to bring about positive adaptability.


A client-centered form of psychoanalysis that employs the use of unconditional positive regard, empathetic understanding, and genuineness in order to bring the client to self-actualization. Gestalt therapy is a form of humanistic-existential psychoanalysis which centers on therapist lead exercises meant to give the conflicting parts of our personality into a unified form.  


Behavior therapy intends to use several forms of conditioning and associative exercises in order to control phobias and self-defeating behavioral patterns. This form of therapy heavily relies on learning theory which explains that we can modify behavior through the use of exposure to negative stimuli.  


Cognitive psychoanalysis is a form of behavioral modification where the therapist tries to modify expectations, attitudes, and beliefs rather than the actual behavior. This type of therapy seeks to promote adaptive behavior by modifying expectations.

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Nevid, J.S., Rathus, S.A. (2005). Psychology and the challenges of life: Adjustment in the new millennium. Danvers, M.A.: Wiley.


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