Although the history of western psychological therapies can be traced back to the late 1800’s, psychotherapy is not new. Ancient Egyptian and Greek writings dating back millennia, talk of “healing through words”. The word “counseling” was used as early as 1386 by Gregory Chaucer.
Similarly, while modern histories may claim psychotherapy and advanced psychological understanding as exclusively Western domains, we can’t ignore the profound psychological insight and sophisticated psychotherapeutic practices found in ancient Buddhist and Sufi literature. Psychotherapy is really an ancient art.
Just about every history of modern psychotherapy begins with Dr. Sigmund Freud. Trained as a neurologist, Freud developed his theory that much of our behavior is unconsciously motivated. His way of working, called “psychoanalysis”, is the first modern theory of psychology. Inevitably, some of Freud’s disciples began to develop their own theories and approaches, which sometimes differed markedly from Freud's. These theorists focused on the dynamics of the relationships between different parts of the psyche and the external world; they called this a “psychodynamic” approach. Since then, a number of theories have developed and added significantly to the art of psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on actively changing the client’s thoughts (“cognitions”) and/or behavior as the benchmark of progress, while those in the Humanistic camp allow the client’s work to unfold naturally by providing unconditional positive regard and highlighting the client’s innate strengths.
In recent years, some in the field of psychology have begun to take a more holistic approach, exploring the intersection of the mind, body and spirit in various forms. Energy psychotherapy centers on use of the body’s energy system, often called ch’i or prana, in the therapy process, much like other healing methods like acupuncture, yoga, and some forms of chiropractic. Body-oriented psychotherapy also uses the body as a primary source of wisdom in therapy. Buddhist psychotherapy employs Buddhist wisdom and practice to help clients manage their feelings and detach from suffering.
Holistic Psychotherapy doesn’t dismiss any of this valuable history, but integrates the wisdom of psychology, energy, bodywork, and the healing arts of many spiritual traditions, into a well-rounded and valuable therapy. Many believe this integration is the future of health and wellness.
Adapted in part from “History of Counselling & Psychotherapy” by David Braunstein