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1950s to 1970s

Beginning in the 1950s, psychotherapy began to orient towards existential-humanistic therapy and cognitive psychology. Other areas of psychology also developed that moved away from the earlier behaviorist views that predominated prior to the 1950s. (I have avoided existential-humanistic therapy here except by way of introducing it because it appears equally grounded in psychology and philosphy. ) Extential therapy arises from the philosophical discipline of existentialism as it is approached in psychology. It focuses on allowing individuals to widen their worldview through psychotherapy.

Contrary to the approach of ignoring the internal mental processes, by the 1950s psychologists began to examine them. Central concerns such as language, problem solving, learning and memory took a more central focus in psychology leading to the discipline of cognitive psychology. The work of Jean Piaget and concepts from Gestalt were among the central figures and theories of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychologists approached psychological problem solving in terms of computers where algorithms and heuristics play a role.

Algorithms may not be understood, but the were still involved in solving psychological problems while heuristic rules, though understood, may not succeed in solving psychological problems. Unlike behavioral psychologists, cognitive psychologists believe that internal mental states play a role in psychology. Cognitive psychologists view the brain as a computer that takes input, processes information and gives feedback. Cognitive psychology predominated psychology through the 1950s and 1960s, and by the 1970s, psychologists began to combine the cognitive approach and the behavioral approach.

1970s to the present From the 1970s until today, the paradigms that predominate throughout psychotherapy are those that combine the cognitive and the behavioral approaches, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). (Reisman, 1991) This psychotherapeutical approach seeks to modify a person’s basic behaviors, assumptions and beliefs in an effort to influence emotions. It is used to treat mood disorders, neurosis, anxiety disorders and more. CBT seeks to identify troubling beliefs, assumptions and thoughts that cause dysfunction and undesirable emotions.

Once identified, the troubling ideas are rejected and replaced with beneficial and realistic alternatives. This is the status of psychotherapy today. Summary and Conclusion Although psychotherapy has probably existed in some form since ancient times, the discipline as we recognize it today probably began in the 19th century and became widely acknowledged in psychology with the work of Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries at the turn of the 19th century. Although plagued with many inconsistencies in terminology, Freud developed the central concept of the id, ego and superego.

While most of Freud’s ideas have been rejected, this central concept of psychotherapy persists to the present time. By the 1950s, psychotherapy had moved from Pavlov’s studies of classical conditioning and Freud’s initial ideas about the unconscious to concepts of existential-humanistic therapy and cognitive psychology. From the 1970s until the present, psychotherapists have focused on cognitive behavioral methods to deal with psychological problems that have no apparent organic basis. The discipline continues to develop and will no doubt continue to do so on into the future.

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