Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A strategic approach to personal therapy by David Don

Counselling, Psychotherapy and Hypnosis-for-therapy

A strategic approach to choice of treatment

By David Don © 2007


Counselling, psychotherapy and the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes all engage clients in processes designed to change the nature of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that prevent them from living a satisfactory life. In other words, the ultimate aim of ‘talking therapies’ is to help people to live a good life or help them discover ways of living a life more satisfactory.

Our discussion starts by looking at the role of counselling, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy in personal therapy. This background information provides a framework for understanding the strategic use of ‘short therapy’ as a ‘first-line’ treatment before clients are asked to commit to the considerable inconvenience and cost of extensive counselling or psychotherapy.

Counselling: the core skill

The best thing about counselling is that it focuses on defining and resolving personal problems and concerns rather than aiming to identify and treat a ‘mental illness’ or to alter someone’s personality. Indeed, the ‘philosophical’ stance which underpins virtually all counselling techniques stresses respect for the client’s personal perspective, values and beliefs and it also assumes that clients will find their own way to resolve their problems or concerns, if guided through a thoughtful process.

Both counselling and psychotherapy rely on things like insight, persuasion, suggestion, reassurance, and instruction to help clients to perceive their Self and their problems more realistically and to increase their motivation and capacity to cope. In general, psychotherapy is reserved for deeper psychological problems and it relies more heavily on psychological theories to guide the approach to treatment than does counselling.

Psychotherapy: a mind map

At the broadest level, psychotherapy refers to the treatment of any form of behaviour by ‘psychological means’. Indeed it encompasses a wide range of approaches and therapeutic techniques which have been derived from diverse psychological theories and models. [Follow the links below if interested in the diversity of approaches].

In the past, many psychotherapists tried to fix every client by applying the same treatment model. These days, many psychotherapists seek out the theory or model of most relevance to the client and their situation (e.g. emotional distress, self-limiting or distressing forms of behaviour, socially unacceptable behaviour, personality disorder, relationship problems etc) and which is most likely to help the client discover and follow pathways towards a good life. It is about opening up options.

Obviously it requires extensive training to understand the drivers of human behaviour, the influences on and nature of decision making and how to apply different psychological models in practice. This is not an argument to dismiss such obligations on personal therapists.

Interestingly however, cognitive therapy is the least theoretical of all the psychological approaches to changing thoughts, feelings and behaviours to improve the quality of a client’s life yet it is the most proven and efficient treatment for a wide range of psychological concerns. Basically, cognitive therapy uses the monitoring and reasoning powers of the conscious mind to influence the cognitive processes that generate disturbing thought, sensations and behaviours. It may be a contentious claim but I think that cognitive therapy is an effective short therapy because it influences the emotional workings of the subconscious mind. However, I have reached this conclusion because I often use hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive therapy.

Hypnosis: an effective tool

The major assumptions that underpin the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool are (1) that the subconscious mind can lock onto sub-optimal solutions in its efforts to meet conflicting emotional needs and (2) that a Hypnotherapist can make direct suggestions to the subconscious mind to find and implement a better solution of its own making. Much of the success of hypnotherapy relies on understanding the nature of the subconscious mind and the way ‘it’ thinks.

Hypnosis can also be used to treat physical ailments but this issue is not addressed here other than to make one significant observation. The resolution of conditions that present as physical ailments via hypnotic-suggestion seldom results in the replacement of that problem by another problem when the intervention is designed after systematic problem-definition using core counselling techniques. [Follow the links below if interested in the properties of the subconscious mind].

A strategic approach to choice of therapy

The cornerstone for ALL personal therapies is trust: without trust it is difficult to define the client’s concerns clearly or to build confidence in the processes that will lead to resolution. I generally encourage clients to tackle the presenting problem first and reserve deep-therapy as a fall back should short-therapy fail. Even then I generally only accept clients for longer term therapy after determining if rational reasons account for the persistence of unwanted thoughts, feelings or behaviour after short therapy. Sometimes there is a need to change the dynamics that influence the expression of personality and this can take time.

The value of this strategic approach to personal therapy is that it works quickly to help clients find pathways that lead towards living a life more satisfactory. Short therapy is not a quick fix; it is a responsible first-line approach to personal therapy.


In summary, various differences exist between different types of talking therapy but:

§ Counselling is the foundation skill for all talking therapies - it is the best way to define issues and circumstances and just doing this often helps clients to put things in perspective again

§ Hypnosis enables short therapy within the framework of counselling and psychotherapy and can be used to address other health issues

§ Psychotherapy is most likely to be relevant when individuals have a poorly defined or distorted sense of Self and poor coping abilities or when they threaten others in the community.

This paper argues for the use of ‘short therapy’ and education as vital first steps in helping client’s to live a good life. In my view, all personal therapists have a responsibility to use their knowledge, skills and professional referral networks to serve their client’s need to lead a life more satisfactory; not to serve an ideology.

David Don © 2007


Diversity of approaches:








Properties of the subconscious mind: