The Myth of the Guru Therapist and Silver Bullet Cure
Adapted from the work of Barry Duncan PhD.
Research has led to an unarguable conclusion that’s good news for both mental health professionals and their clients: Psychotherapy is effective in helping human problems.
The good news of therapy’s usefulness has led to the impression that therapy operates with technological precision. The illusion is that the all-knowing therapist assigns the proper diagnosis and then selects the right treatment for the particular disorder at hand. This is based on the medical model of therapy which operates from the belief that the therapist sizes up the demon that plagues the client, loads the silver bullet into the psychotherapy revolver, and shoots the psychic werewolf terrorizing the client.
The more likely truth is that the therapist will offer the approach she or he was trained in or is most comfortable in delivering, regardless of the kind of problem you have or your preferences about how it should be handled.
Over the years, new schools of therapy have propagated like rabbits and now there are over 400 models and techniques. Most models claim to have captured the true essence of psychological dysfunction as well as the best remedies. Most claim to be the true silver bullet cure for whatever ails you. However, the claims that one approach is better than the rest have no basis in reality.
In the hopes of proving their pet approaches superior, a generation of investigators ushered in the age of comparative clinical trials. Winners and losers were to be had. Behavior therapy, psychoanalytic, client-centered or humanistic, rational-emotive, cognitive behavioural, time-limited, time-unlimited, and other therapies were pitted against each other in a great battle of the brands.
Nonetheless, all this sound and fury produced an unexpected result. The underlying premise of the comparative studies, that one (or more) therapies would prove superior to others, received virtually no support. No one succeeded in declaring any model to be the best.
These findings have been creatively summarized by quoting the dodo bird from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who said, “Everybody has won and all must have prizes,” first articulated back in 1936 by the Harvard trained psychologist Saul Rosenzweig. The so-called dodo bird verdict has proven to be the most replicated finding in the therapy literature.
The dodo verdict means that because all approaches appear equal in effectiveness, there must be factors in operation that overshadow any perceived differences among approaches. Therapy works, and it has nothing to do with the bells and whistles. They all have common factors of change.
Leading researchers from around the world reviewed five decades of investigation and revealed its implications for practice. The factors that do make a difference are – your resources, a supportive relationship, and a plan of action that fits your ideas and engenders hope.
Don’t be beguiled by the myth of the guru therapist and the silver bullet cure. There are endless possibilities for ideas and techniques that could prove useful to your change endeavour. There is no single silver bullet approach.
Change is far more about you and the relationship you form with the therapist than their flashy brilliance or the brand of therapy they practice; tapping into your strengths and wisdom is the only silver bullet cure.
The mental health field seems obsessed with viewing people as mental invalids. The question they ask above all others is “What’s wrong with you?” It seems to be the field’s mission to hunt down pathology – often hidden in such a way that only an “expert” can find it – lurking everywhere waiting to strike like a monster in a bad horror movie. This view of people as damaged goods, hopeless victims of past trauma or their own biochemistry just doesn’t fit my experience.
I am delighted to discover, that this pervasive attitude doesn’t fit scientific research about change either. Change is far more about what’s right with the people attempting it – their strengths, resources, ideas, and relational support – than the labels they’re branded with or even the methods the therapist uses.
This information resonates with my experience and I help clients harness their abilities to solve life struggles as well as doing my best to influence the mental health field to abandon the self serving view of people as sick, fragile, and incompetent. My efforts (with my colleagues Drs. Scott Miller and Jacqueline Sparks) have spawned a worldwide “Heroic Client Movement” based on the desire to give clients a voice in their own treatment and applying the bottom line of over fifty years of research about change.
And that bottom line is – you are the engine of change.
Change happens by marshalling your inherent abilities, what’s right with you, to address the situation at hand. In the drama of change, you are the hero or heroine.
Resources: Fancher, R, (2003). Health and suffering in America. Transaction Publishers/Rutgers.
Duncan, B., Miller, S., & Sparks, J. (2004). The heroic client. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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