As I look back on my career as a therapist from the Downhill Slope, some of the things I once believed now make me shudder. I actually gave credence to the idea that over-anxious “Smothering Mothers” caused asthma and that “Icebox” mothers caused autism. That was what was taught in graduate school and I was more inclined to believe my professors than question at that stage of my life. . Now I know the opposite is true–asthma in children creates anxious mothers and autism in babies creates mothers who have learned to relate the way an autistic child needs. Still, I shudder.
I know now that most therapists who I respect, don’t hold to one theory but see each theory or model as a tool that will improve their effectiveness. Out of curiosity, I have asked psychotherapists on Facebook to list at least 15 of the theorists or models that most influenced their thoughts about therapy and expanded their tools. Here is my list, not exclusive, not in any order, although I have tried to keep it chronologically in the beginning at least.
- Freud because he opened my mind to the idea that we aren’t always aware of why we do what we do. I met this idea first by reading Shakespeare and some Greek Plays.
- The Ego Psychologists mainly Eric Erickson. The idea that we moved through life stages as well as what I saw as his continuum of strength and weakness when he discussed the crisis involve in each stage.
- Carl Rogers, because he helped me listen and better understand what someone was saying. Listening seemed very helpful to those I was trying to help.
- Biological theories as the result mainly of working in medical social work, but these were eventually reinforced by other theorists and I see us as Body and Mind, never one or the other. Of particular importance was coming to understand the impact of trauma on people’s brain and belief systems. Names: Bessel van der Kolk and James Garbarino.
- Social justice theories and particularly Richard Cloward and Francis Fox Pivan from when I worked at Columbia and Cloward was a colleague.
- Group work theories—again associated with Columbia and the names Bill Swartz, Alex Gitterman and Judy Marks come to mind.
- Community Organizing and Social Justice issues started in Bryn Mawr with Ricky Ross, but reinforced at Columbia under Brager.
- Transactional Analysis which I liked most for its empowering of clients but trying to make Freudian theory more understandable. Thomas Harris and Claude Steiner and friend Gerry Wallman are the names I most think of as related to TA. Harris’s book I’m Ok, Your OK spoke to my innate belief people were strong. Steiner for introducing me to game theory, particularly the Games Alcoholics Play—Victim, Rescuer, Blamer.
- Family therapy, mostly Virgina Satir, Salvador Minuchan, Gregory Bateson for his systems theory, Nathan Ackerman, and Jay Haley.
- The cognitive theorists including Jerome Kagan and Albert Ellis. These came into play after I became a foster parent and all the above seemed not to help me deal with my kids as much as these theories did. Knowing how they think helped. Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Alan Ivey, ad Robert Kegan belong here.
- Reality Therapy. Not in much favor today except in Tough Love Parenting circles, but I think an important theory for the Soft Love parents and therapists to keep in mind.
- The behaviorists. Figuring out the rewards and punishments for my acting out foster kids were helped by these theorists. David Levine as a dog whisperer, was one of my gurus.
- Milton Erickson and his use of hypnotism as a treatment tool, particularly his theory of utilization which meant using whatever you could to help your client.
- The Narrative, Collaborative, and Post Modern Schools for their willingness to accept various interpretations of reality and honored strengths and cultures.
- Duncan and Miller for making me question all research and honor the feedback of clients and goodness of fit, a useful contrast to evidence based practices.
- My family, my children, my foster children, my clients, and my students, my staff, my own therapists—some who helped and some who didn’t.