The Myth of the Guru Therapist and Silver Bullet Cure
Adapted from the work of Barry Duncan PhD.
The good news about therapy
Let’s talk about the good news and then the myths of therapy. Therapy research has led to the conclusion that is good news for both mental health professionals and their clients: psychotherapy is effective in helping human problems.
This good news of therapy’s usefulness has led to the impression that therapy operates with technological precision. The first of the myths of therapy is that the all-knowing therapist finds 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 is the expert, figures out what bothers the client, loads the silver bullet into the psychotherapy gun, and shoots the psychic demon terrorizing the client.
The more likely truth is that the therapist will offer the approach they were trained in or are most comfortable in delivering – regardless of the kind of problem you have or your preferences about how it should be handled.
There are hundreds of therapy models
Over the years, new schools of therapy have continued to propagate and now there are over 600 models and techniques, some of which are listed here 50 types of therapy. Most models claim to have figured out “the true essence” of your psychological problems as well as “the best remedies” to cure them. Most claim to be the true silver bullet cure for whatever bothers you. But, the claims that one approach is better than the rest have no basis in reality. These claims continue to feed the myths of therapy which people still believe and lead to many fads and latest crazes in therapy.
In the hopes of proving their pet approaches superior, researchers began to do comparative clinical trials. Behaviour therapy, psychoanalytic, client-centred, humanistic, rational-emotive, cognitive behavioural therapy, time-limited, time-unlimited, and many 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.
Common factors of change
These research 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 discussed in 1936 by the Harvard 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 differences among approaches. Therapy works, and it has nothing to do with the bells and whistles of each particular type. They all have common factors of change which are the effective aspects of treatment shared by diverse forms of psychotherapy.
Leading researchers from around the world reviewed fifty years of research and revealed its implications for practice. The factors that do make a difference are – your resources, a supportive relationship with the therapist, and a plan of action that fits your ideas and engenders hope.
Endless possibilities for change
Don’t be fooled 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 plans. 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 essential component of your silver bullet cure.
The medical model depends on viewing people as mental invalids. The question they ask above all others is “What’s wrong with you?” Therapists who work from this medical model seem to be on a mission to hunt down pathology – often hidden in such a way that only an “expert” can find it. It lurks 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.
What’s right with you is the key
The search for what’s right with you doesn’t fit scientific research about change either. It’s one of the hardest of all myths of therapy to dispel. Change is far more about what’s right with you, what’s right with the people attempting to change – their strengths, resources, ideas, and relational support – than the labels they’re branded with or even the methods the therapist uses.
This is what 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 more than fifty years of research about change.
And that bottom line is:
You are the engine of change
Change happens by gathering 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. You are the heroic client. Forget all the myths about how therapy works and which is the best and latest therapy. Find a therapist you can work with & who respects your ideas of change & get working!
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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