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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Have All the Grand Masters in Psychotherapy Died?


Gestalt therapy is intimately linked to the life and work of Fritz Perls, and almost everyone in my generation of clinical and counseling psychologists remembers the iconic “Gloria tapes” in which the therapy styles of Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and Fritz Perls were juxtaposed.  In his review of Eleanor O’Leary’s Gestalt Therapy Around the World, Paul Priester asks,

What happens to a school of psychotherapy when its founder dies? Perhaps even more poignantly, what happens to a school of psychotherapy after the first generation of clinicians trained by the founders die? (para. 1)

Why aren’t there heirs apparent for Rogers, Ellis, and Perls? Did all three men fail in succession planning? Is there anyone today of similar stature to these giants in the world of psychotherapy? If not, why not?

Read the Review
ReviewWho (in the World) Wants to Work? The International Persistence of Gestalt Psychotherapy
By Paul E. Priester
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(26)


Sheri McCurdy-Lightbound

What about Aaron Beck? Beck gave us the “depressive cognitive triad” and cognitive therapy (and later worked with others to create cognitive behavioral therapy). How many people have used his assessment scales? He has written over 600 scholarly articles (per the UPenn website) and recently won the first Kennedy Community Health Award. As for a legacy, Judith Beck literally wrote the book on CBT.

One thing I appreciate about Beck’s cognitive therapy is that he stresses the importance of the therapeutic alliance. There is a quote by Beck in the article “The Most Influential Therapists of the Past Quarter-Century” from Psychotherapy Networker, "Therapists who are good at the technical end of cognitive therapy fall flat on their faces when it comes to the more complex case..Empathy, sensitivity, considerateness--together with the ability to put them together with technical aspects--is the combination needed." In the 2006 survey that was the basis of the article, Beck was named the second most influential therapist of the past quarter-century after Rogers.

Andrea Bradford

I agree with Sheri McCurdy-Lightbound's comment. Aaron Beck and Judith Beck are most certainly worthy of modern day "grand master" status by any measure - their impact on practice, their visibility in the public, what psychology trainees today are reading, etc.

There are other psychologists, whom I would consider to be "grand masters," whose work has already shaped practice on a large scale (e.g., Marsha Linehan, William Miller). They did not attempt to entirely reinvent the wheel to arrive at their methods and could rightfully be considered heirs to the principles espoused by the original "masters." However, they are also working scientists and scholars and do not necessarily fit the "guru" model of yesteryear.

Also, there is a natural upper limit to the number of people who can be considered pioneers of psychotherapy. Others have done the work of refining, extending, and revolutionizing psychotherapy, arguably with greater impact. It is unfair to compare these groups. A "school of psychotherapy" is only as good as its actual contribution to human health and well being. By that definition, some "schools" may well deserve to evolve, or even to be retired alongside the cultural contexts in which they are inherently embedded.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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