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Eclecticism in Therapy

From the 1800s through the 1950s, psychologists who practiced therapy usually identified themselves with a particular school. They were Rogerian or Adlerian or Freudian.

By the 1970s increasing numbers of psychologists were willing to use ideas from more than one school. This is called the eclectic orientation. Eclectic means drawing from many different sources.

What is eclecticism? Why do therapists avoid the label?

An eclectic therapist uses whatever approach seems appropriate. At first glance that seems obviously to be a good idea. However, therapists are reluctant to label themselves as eclectic.

Perhaps it sounds too wishy-washy or insufficiently focused, like saying, "I can do it all" or "I will use whatever works." Despite a widespread belief among therapists themselves that "many therapists are eclectic", the number of psychotherapists who actually label themselves that way remains low, around 10%.

What did Lazarus call his type of therapy?

While psychologists are wary of the eclectic label, most would probably agree with therapists like Arnold Lazarus who said it was important to match the right treatment to a problem.

Lazarus is one of those who did not use the word eclectic. He called his approach multi-modal therapy, meaning that he used several different approaches to help a client. That is eclecticism.

What is the EBP movement and how does eclecticism mesh with it?

Eclecticism may be the inevitable result of looking for best practices. If desensi­tization is the best treatment for phobias, and research shows this unambiguously (which it does), then even a Rogerian therapist should learn about desensiti­zation. If Rogerian therapy works best for people trying to figure out what to do with their lives, even an REBT practitioner might want to use Rogerian techniques with such a client.

Eclectism accords well with the modern movement toward evidence-based practice (EBP). This movement started in the mid-1990s and became "a public health agenda that calls on practitioners to use the best available scientific evi­dence as a basis for formulating treat­ments for individual clients" (DeAngelis, 2005).

What is EBP and how does it encourage eclectism?

Sophisticated matching of problems to treatments seems like an inevitable goal, as the sciences of therapy and counsel­ing mature. A big push in this direction comes from insurance companies and HMOs (Health Management Organi­zations) who are increasingly asked to cover psychotherapy treatments.

Before they reimburse a therapist for treatment, insurance companies want to know the treatment is the right one for the patient's problem. Therapists want their services to be covered by health insurance policies, so they learn to defend their choice of treatments by citing research evidence. These trends intensify the movement toward evidence-based practice (EBP).


DeAngelis, T. (2005, March) Shaping evidence-based practice. Monitor on Psychology. p.26. Retrieved from:

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