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4 Fundamental Therapeutic Skills in Psychology

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Psychotherapy, according to the Spanish Federation of Associations of Psychotherapists (1992), consists of a scientific treatment of a psychological nature that promotes the achievement of changes in the way of acting, physical and psychological health, coherence and integrity of identity and well-being of both groups and individuals individuals.

Its effectiveness lies in the therapeutic change that allows the patient to live his life in a more functional and healthy way. What factors are driving this change?

Numerous studies indicate that the quality of the therapeutic alliance, what is the established relationship between patient and therapist in therapy, is the most robust predictor of treatment, the type of therapy used being less important as it does not present significant differences between them, since they are fundamentally moderated by contextual factors and relational.

So that, different characteristics, attitudes and therapeutic skills are especially relevant in the effectiveness of the intervention. What are the most important?

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Therapist characteristics

Among the personal characteristics of the professional who favor change of his patients highlight the following.

  • Cordiality: express (verbally and non-verbally) interest, appreciation, encouragement and approval for the patient.

  • Competence: ability to help people solve their problems and improve their self-confidence.

  • Confidence: the patient's perception that the therapist will work to help him, without deceiving him or trying to harm him.

  • Attraction: can be physical or interpersonal. The first influences especially the initial phase of therapy, while the second is much more important throughout the entire process.

  • Directivity: degree to which the therapist gives instructions, defines tasks, asks questions to obtain information, provides information and feedback... Both the excess and the defect of directivity are negative in therapy.

Essential therapeutic skills

The fundamental attitudes for the establishment of the therapeutic alliance are active listening, empathy, unconditional acceptance and authenticity.

1. Active listening

Knowing how to listen is essential in therapy as it encourages patients to talk about themselves and their problems, increasing the possibility of understanding them and encouraging them to be responsible for their change process, seeing the therapist as a collaborator rather than as an expert.

Active listening involves three activities: receiving the message (through verbal, non-verbal and vocal communication and attitude), process the information (knowing how to discriminate what is important and establish its meaning) and listens.

  • Related article: "Active listening: the key to communicating with others"

2. Empathy

The empathy It consists of the ability to understand people's thoughts and feelings from their own frame of reference. it implies attend to the manifest and also to the latent, capturing and understanding the meaning of the emotional, cognitive and behavioral implications beyond what is expressed. In addition, it requires knowing how to communicate to the other person that we understand them.

Some empathic strategies are: active listening (previously defined), clarification (formulating questions to find out what the patient is expressing), the use of paraphrase, synthesis and recapitulations (collect and capture the ideas previously expressed by the patient) and reflection (collect and capture the emotional component presented).

3. Unconditional acceptance

Accept the patient as he is, valuing him without judging him.

Among the components of unconditional acceptance we find: commitment to the patient (interest and willingness to help him), effort to understand him and non-judgmental attitude.

4. Authenticity

Authenticity implies being yourself, communicating one's own inner feelings and experiences. The therapeutic situation requires knowing what to say or express, how and when so as not to harm the patient or the therapeutic relationship.

Some of its main elements are: non-verbal behaviors (such as smiling, eye contact and body orientation towards the patient), little emphasis on the therapist's role of authority, spontaneity (ability to express oneself naturally, without deliberating on everything that is said and does) and self-disclosure (controlled offering, by the therapist, of information about himself and his reactions to the situation in therapy).

  • Related article: "Basic therapeutic skills in Gestalt Therapy"

Bibliographic references:

  • Campbell, L. F., Norcross, J. C., Vasquez, M. J., & Kaslow, N. J. (2013). Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness: the APA resolution. Psychotherapy, 50 (1), 98.

  • Corbella, S. and Botella, L. (2004). Research in Psychotherapy. Process, results and common factors. Madrid: Vision Net.
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