What is it about?

Hundreds of quite different systems of psychotherapy compete for therapists’ attention and use. This kaleidoscopic situation is both very rich as well as very taxing, unwieldy, and confusing for therapists. This article shows how a unification that is conceptually illuminating and pragmatically useful can be had by understanding the effects of any form of psychotherapy as modification of personal knowledge held in memory. A person’s “memory” is the stored form of acquired personal knowledge of all types, conscious and nonconscious. Recent progress in memory research now allows us to identify the specific mechanisms of modifying personal knowledge that are engaged by any particular process of psychotherapy. Viewed in this way, diverse therapy systems no longer seem to belong to different worlds. Rather, their distinctive techniques and methodologies become a rich palette of options for readjusting the contents of memory to produce therapeutic change. This framework can account for the full range of therapeutic effects, from partial reduction of symptoms that may still relapse to profound, liberating change that endures.

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Why is it important?

The profusion of therapeutic systems has lodged the entire field in an uneasy parochialism and causes therapists much difficulty, both in understanding such widely differing approaches and in choosing between them for helping a given therapy client. Being puzzled by how seemingly irreconcilable concepts and methods can sometimes be equally effective is in itself a chronic dissatisfaction for many therapists. This article’s framework of unification enables psychotherapists to understand, respect, and utilize a far larger range of diverse therapy systems than has typically been feasible previously, and to thereby select and apply forms of therapy that are more optimally tailored and effective for each unique person in therapy. This nontheoretical framework allows each camp to explain the therapeutic action of its particular system in objective, empirical, universal terms that are readily understandable and meaningful to other camps, dissolving therapeutic parochialism.


The article ends with this paragraph: “‘Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge’ wrote Winston Churchill. From Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.: ‘For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn't give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.’ Whether Holmes—not being a psychotherapist—would have been inclined to give me anything in exchange for [this unification] framework seems unlikely, but I am hopeful that the value of [it] for psychotherapists will be significant.”

Bruce Ecker
Coherence Psychology Institute

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A proposal for the unification of psychotherapeutic action understood as memory modification processes., Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, April 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/int0000330.
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