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Why ‘Eclectic’ Therapy is a More Flexible & Holistic Way of Helping Your Child

electic therapy

Takeaway: There are many schools of psychology, each with its own approach and solution to common life problems. Eclectic therapy takes aspects of these different approaches and uses the ones that will best help your child. So, it’s a personalised, flexible form of therapy that focuses on your child’s specific needs. And it offers a holistic approach that is often missing in more rigid forms of traditional therapy.

Your child is more than just a bundle of ‘problems.’ Rather, she’s a unique individual with an engaging story

If your child is struggling with something, it’s tempting to start focusing on all the things that are ‘wrong’ with her. But, we humans are so much more complex than a machine that’s broken down and needs fixing. And often, a perceived weakness can also be a strength. For example, a child with autism might seem rigid and inflexible (a ‘weakness’), but she might also have the ability to focus on her favourite topics and activities and become adept at them (a ‘strength’). Or, a child with dyslexia might take longer than usual to read and write but could be especially skilled at storytelling (with a potential future as a novelist?).

So, when helping children, we need to start thinking more holistically

Instead of focusing only on one aspect of her personality, it’s worth stepping back to get some perspective. An integrative approach is personalised to the client’s needs and can be effective once the therapist has a complete picture of your child.

Rather than trying to fit your child to a particular style of therapy, an eclectic therapist adapts the therapy to your child. So, it’s a highly flexible approach, with a great deal of mixing and matching of therapeutic schools of thought. The basic principle is that there is no ‘right’ way to do therapy, and the therapist needs to use her training and skill to figure out which combination of psychological tools will best help your child.

It’s about finding what works, rather than what ‘should’ work

Most therapists are trained in a particular ‘school’ of therapy, and each of these schools has its own ideas and approaches. This rich heritage can translate into highly effective therapy, but it can also become a problem if applied too rigidly. And that’s because no one approach can help everyone with everything. So, trying to use only one school’s toolkit is severely limiting. Instead, an eclectic therapist understands the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches at her disposal and chooses the one that will help your child the most. And this flexibility is so important because your child is still discovering herself and her brain is still developing. So, the kind of help she needs could likely change from year to year. (In this sense, child psychology is complicated in a very different way to adult psychology.) Because of this flexibility, eclectic therapy is used to treat a variety of challenges like sleep disturbances, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, addictions, anger issues, and low self-esteem. And it can help a child through life events like bereavement, serious illness, or parental separation.

An eclectic therapist creates her own specialised toolkit, borrowing from a range of existing psychological traditions

Here are some of the more popular schools:

  • Psychoanalytic therapy addresses unconscious or deeply buried thoughts and emotions that have been repressed. Healing, in this tradition, comes from making the unconscious conscious. And it uses tools like dream analysis and free association to explore this vast, hidden unconscious.
  • Humanistic therapy focuses on your child’s positive traits and her natural instinct to grow, heal, and find fulfilment. It explores the here-and-now, rather than looking to the past to explain the present. And the key lies in providing a supportive and empathetic environment for your child to share her feelings. In that sense, the therapist is less of an ‘authority’ and more of a ‘friend.’
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is especially useful with mood issues (e.g., depression) and anxieties. The idea is that thoughts cause our emotions and moods. And when we learn to recognise and examine our thoughts, we can change our emotions and moods — which in turn changes our behaviour. So, through therapy, your child will learn to recognise distorted, negative thought patterns and challenge them with more accurate, empowering alternatives.
  • Mindfulness therapy ties in well with the CBT, by helping your child root herself in the present moment — i.e., what she’s seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, thinking, and feeling. In the process, she’ll learn to better separate the reality around her from the tangle of fears and anxieties in her head. And this will help her look more objectively at these fears and anxieties, and do something about them.
  • Family therapy looks at your child’s mental health as being an offshoot of the larger family system she’s a part of. So, helping her will involve examining and modifying how the family as a whole communicates and behaves. Typically, the therapy sessions could include her ‘significant others’ like parents, siblings, and grandparents.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) will help your child accept that the emotions she feels (however uncomfortable) are appropriate responses to the events she’s experienced. And by opening herself up to these emotions, she can make changes and move on with her life in a positive way.
  • Play Therapy is ideal for younger children who can’t quite verbalise their feelings. Instead of talking, they’ll play with toys, blocks and puppets, or make drawings (a form of art therapy). A skilled therapist can use these as ways of spotting major themes in your child’s life — for example, bullying, parents’ divorce, inner aggression, problems at school, etc. And these themes can be the focus of further ‘talk’ therapy.

Eclectic therapy weaves together different parts of your child’s personality and life

We all tend to reject the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or leave certain thoughts, emotions and feelings unresolved. And this gets in the way of us learning to solve daily challenges, staying healthy, and connecting with the people around us. Eclectic therapy helps us embrace these rejected and unresolved issues so that we can re-engage with the world. Obviously, with children, this process requires a skilful therapist. But it is still possible.

With the right therapist, your child can learn to better cope with whatever challenge she’s facing, gain confidence, and find meaning in her life

Eclectic approach an help change your child’s life, but it needs a skilled therapist. Someone that your child likes and trusts, and who you like and trust, too — because you’ll be a part of the process. Remember, if your child is very young, you’ll be the one implementing the strategies the therapist suggests. And even if your child is older, you’ll still be sharing your observations and insights. So, do a bit of research before settling on a therapist. Therapy can be a lot of hard work, but with the right therapist, the rewards make it all worth the effort.

Do you think your child might benefit from an eclectic approach to therapy? Consider contacting a specialist.

The Ed Psych Practice offers consultation, advice, and problem solving for parents, nurseries, schools, and colleges, in London. We have psychologists and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support.

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