More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the Past Quarter-Century

These are only brief excerpts from the original article. See the link above for more.

1. Carl Rogers
Virtually all therapists today are "Rogerian" in style, no matter what their clinical or theoretical orientation, or what they think of Carl Rogers. Does any clinician not subscribe, at least in part, to the holy trinity of Rogers's psychotherapeutic method: "unconditional positive regard" or full acceptance of clients as they are; complete empathic understanding of clients, clearly communicated to them; and "congruence," or being authentic, genuine, and transparently "real" with clients? What therapist, no matter how hard-nosed, directive, and manual-bound, doesn't program at least a little "reflective listening" into his or her work from time to time?

Not that any of these ideas were, strictly speaking, invented by Rogers—no psychotherapy is really thinkable without them. Still, Rogers was probably the first to put them all together in one comprehensive package, which during the '50s, '60s, and '70s became an almost universal therapeutic credo, even a brand identity that determines to this day what most people—lay people at any rate—think of when they imagine what a therapist is or does. Carl Rogers, you could say, was a kind of Mr. Rogers for grown-ups....

2.Aaron Beck
If all therapists today are at least a little bit Rogerian, it's probably true that most of them are also a little bit Beckian. "Cognitive therapy" (as Beck called it originally), emerged quietly and unobtrusively on the scene in the 1960s, invented more or less simultaneously and independently by Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. It's now, 40 years on, the blockbuster success called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

The genius of Beck's method was not only its brevity and effectiveness, but its easily replicable methodology, which lent itself readily to clinical trials. Beck not only developed a systematic model of brief therapy based on the notion that distorted thinking sustains depression and anxiety, but also perfected an empirically testable clinical technique, which he himself immediately began testing and fine-tuning. It's hard to imagine that, whatever its intrinsic merits, CBT would have come as far as it has if not for Beck's own indefatigable research and astonishing productivity—20-odd books and 514 academic journal articles and still counting (he's written 474 papers since he was 50!)....

3. Salvador Minuchin
Salvador Minuchin's background is as unusual for a therapist as the family therapy methods he pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s. Born in 1921, he was a street-fighting Jewish kid in the anti-Semitic culture of Argentina. As a college student, he was jailed for three months for protesting the government of Juan Perón. He served as a doctor in the Israeli army during that country's first wars. Later, studying psychoanalysis in New York City, he worked with black and Hispanic street toughs, whom he had the background to understand.

The traditional therapeutic techniques he'd been taught didn't work with his young clientele. To reach these rebellious and unhappy youths, Minuchin hit upon the idea of treating them not individually, but with their entire families. He and his colleagues had no theories to draw upon in doing this—they observed and acted on their observations, experimenting audaciously. In Minuchin's words, they "gradually articulated a correct method of working. We weren't dealing with the way people think about relationships, but the relationships themselves." Using this new approach, Minuchin and his colleagues changed the lives of youngsters who'd previously been considered clinically unreachable...

4.Irvin Yalom
Irvin Yalom is a consummate storyteller, whose stories are mainly about therapists, their patients, and the complex ritual called psychotherapy. He's one of the field's leading experts in group therapy—his magisterial work on the subject, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, has gone through five editions and sold more than 700,000 copies since first published in 1970. He's also the country's best-known theorist and practitioner of existential psychotherapy. And yet it's undoubtedly his works of fiction about psychotherapy that have made him famous, including the bestselling books Love's Executioner, When Nietzsche Wept, and Momma and the Meaning of Life....

5.Virginia Satir
The 1964 publication of Virginia Satir's Conjoint Family Therapy presented her down-to-earth introduction to the art of this new therapeutic approach, confirming her reputation as a pioneer in the field. From the early '60s—when her six-foot frame was augmented with three-inch heels and several inches of bouffant hair-do—the charismatic and controversial Satir loomed as a giant among therapists. Constantly on the road to the end of her life, she was a roving ambassador, even an evangelist, for a vision of family therapy as the means of healing a wounded world.

The hallmark of Satir's work was her extraordinary sensitivity to the nonverbal aspects of communication—height differentials, distance, voice, tone, eye contact, posture, touch, and movement. Much of the magic of her therapeutic style was the ease with which she used these nonverbal dimensions. She believed that if she could help her clients see, hear, and feel more, their personal and interpersonal resources would lead them to their own solutions. Lori Gordon expressed what many observed: "No one could hold on to their own pathology around Virginia."

6. Albert Ellis
Albert Ellis is credited (at least he credits himself) with inventing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the most widely practiced and popular of all psychotherapy approaches today. By his own lights, he beat Aaron Beck, the "other" inventor of CBT, to the punch by a few years.

Both Beck and Ellis departed radically from the dominant psychoanalytic approach by asserting that childhood events were largely irrelevant to the emotional problems of adults, and focused instead on changing the self-defeating beliefs (usually automatic) that kept people stuck in their own emotional morass. Ellis maintains that his version of CBT, called Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT), differs from Beck's because it isn't just a clinical approach, but a realistic and rational philosophy of life, based on unconditional acceptance of oneself, of others, and of the world as it really is.

The huge popularity of CBT—and that of REBT—owes much to Ellis's unflagging genius for self-promotion. The perennial bad boy of psychotherapy, he's achieved a mix of fame, cultlike worship, notoriety, and grudging respect as the revolutionary-in-chief for the new paradigm. It's hard, in fact, to separate REBT entirely from the Ellis phenomenon itself—manifested in countless profanity-laden, highly entertaining lectures, demonstrations, interviews, and weekly, open-therapy workshops he's held for about four decades at the Albert Ellis Institute, which he founded in New York City....

7. Murray Bowen
Murray Bowen developed theories and invented terms now used, or at least known, by every family therapist practicing in America. His concepts of differentiation of self, emotional systems, triangles, emotional cutoffs, the family-projection process, sibling positions, and the multigenerational-transmission process have been woven into the fabric of the field. "Bowen was the intellectual beacon for everyone who was first trying to understand the family," says Braulio Montalvo, who, with Salvador Minuchin, helped create structural family therapy in the early 1960s. "Almost every major concept in family therapy can be traced back to him. He taught everybody."

Bowen did more than give intellectual legitimacy to the scruffy, make-do empiricism of family therapy. In large part, he created the field's intellectual scaffolding, giving it the conceptual structure that distinguishes it from all other psychotherapies. What set him apart from other pathbreakers in the field was his determination to forge a new science of behavior—an overreaching natural systems theory that would be a comprehensive set of interlocking principles accounting for the entire range of human behavior and its evolutionary origins...

8. Carl Jung
Carl Jung lit his farts on camping trips, danced with tribal people in Africa, built a stone tower with his own hands, socialized with his patients, and installed his mistress in his house (breaking his wife's heart). He was unafraid to delve psychologically into mysticism, the occult, alchemy—anywhere he thought he could find truths. Without him, there'd have been no Joseph Campbell or the legions of myth-minded, spiritual authors whose ideas have found their way into many aspects of contemporary psychotherapy. Some think of him as the first manifestation of the therapist-as-rock-star because he had groupies and often seemed more like a guru than a therapist. But Jung originated the basic form of psychotherapy still practiced today in most fields: unlike Freud, he faced his patients, talking, consoling, taking their ideas seriously as they sat across a table. "I realized," he wrote, "that one gets nowhere unless one talks to people about the things they know."

It was Jung who first argued that we possess male and female aspects (animus and anima), as well as an unacknowledged, forbidding region, which he called the Shadow. He introduced the concepts of "introvert," "extrovert," "synchronicity," and "the complex." As family therapists one day would emphasize, he was less interested in what stage of childhood his patients were stuck in than how they were evolving in the present. For Jung, the unconscious was not Freud's forbidding "id," but a sea of meaningful, resonant symbols, which cut across cultures and historical eras. He believed that "individuation"—a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious parts of our being that reconciles our opposite character traits—was the highest goal. And it was Jung who developed the radical idea, explicated in our era by James Hillman, that neuroses and other psychological problems should be recognized not only as symptoms to be cured, but as messages from the unconscious that, if addressed with insight, point the way to a more fulfilling life.

Jung was the first psychoanalytic thinker to attempt a means of understanding collective human behavior. He believed that individual character flowed from an ancient collective pool of myths and archetypes: humanity's age-old symbols swimming in what he postulated was a "collective unconscious." "Although we human beings have our own personal life," he wrote, "we are yet in large measure the representatives, the victim and promoters of a collective spirit whose years are counted in centuries."

9. Milton Erickson
Despite everything that's been written about Milton Erickson and the diligent efforts of so many to understand just what he did in therapy and why it worked so remarkably well, an air of mystery surrounds his work even now. Shortly after Erickson's death, his 20-year student Jay Haley said, "Not a day passes that I don't use something that I learned from Erickson in my work. Yet his basic ideas I only partially grasp."

The image of Erickson that's emerged in the field is that of a therapeutic wizard possessed of an overwhelming personal power. "He wasn't the kind of person you'd just sit down and chat with," recalls Jeffrey Zeig. "He was consistently working, consistently being Milton Erickson, which entailed having the most profound experience he could with whomever he was sitting with. In that sense, he was constantly hypnotic, constantly therapeutic, constantly teaching."

Perhaps this was because Erickson's physical state necessitated the complete focus of all his faculties. Dyslexic, tone deaf, color blind, prone to vertigo and disorientation, stricken with polio at 17 and again at 51, he spent the last 13 years of his life (the period in which many of his well-known students first met him) painfully confined to a wheelchair. As he tried to model the flexibility and subtle verbal methods he'd spent a lifetime developing, he did so with partially paralyzed lips and a dislocated tongue. Yet, as Haley said, "the man worked 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week doing therapy. . . . Every weekend, he was either seeing patients or on the road teaching." Zeig adds: "The thing that was so impressive about Erickson was the time and energy he was willing to put out. Once he took somebody as a patient, he'd, literally, do anything he possibly could to help that person. When you were a client of Erickson, you just felt he was totally focused on you."

10. John Gottman
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in a specially outfitted studio apartment in Seattle that reporters nicknamed the "love lab," mathematician-turned-psychologist John Gottman videotaped ordinary couples in their most ordinary moments—playing solitaire, chatting, kissing, disagreeing, watching TV, cooking dinner, joking. Sometimes Gottman asked them to discuss an area of conflict while monitors strapped to their chests recorded their heart rates, or he sat them on spring-loaded platforms to record fidgeting. He studied newlyweds, abusive couples, people who shout, and people who never raise their voices. Using an elaborate coding system, he tracked flickering facial expressions, sighs, clammy hands, rolling eyes. He followed couples for more than two decades to see who got divorced, who established parallel lives, and who stayed together (happily or not).

Then Gottman translated his data into numbers. He found he could predict a divorce with 91-percent accuracy by analyzing seven variables during a couple's five-minute disagreement. (Whether his average is better than the town gossip's has yet to be studied.) These discoveries made John Gottman famous. Many in the field now believe that most of what we know about marriage and divorce comes from his work.

Examining more than 3,000 couples, Gottman discovered that most of them fought, and that even the most happily married of them never resolved 69 percent of their conflicts. What was crucial to the longevity of a marriage, he learned, wasn't whether a couple fought, but how.

Among couples whose marriages survived well—the "masters of marriage," as Gottman and his colleagues call them—wives raised issues gently and brought them up sooner rather than later. Neither husbands nor wives regularly became so upset with each other that their heart rates rose above 95 beats a minute, and these couples broke rising tension with jokes, reassurance, and distractions. In Gottman's study, 80 percent of complaints came from wives, but successful husbands didn't play king or cross their arms in response. And most notably, "master" couples made at least 5 positive remarks or gestures toward each other for every zinger during a fight. In calmer times, their positive-to-negative ratio was an astounding 20 to 1. "Masters of disaster" couples were pretty much the opposite...

Daniel E.
Milton Erickson

5 December 1901
Aurum, Nevada

25 March 1980 (aged 78)
Phoenix, Arizona

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Daniel E.
“In his work as a psychologist, Jung argued against the division of the psyche, the dissociation between good and evil, the bifurcation between the conscious and unconscious selves. The goal of psychoanalytic therapy, as he saw it, was not to bring life into some sort of harmony, but to engage in a process he called “individuation,” the opening up of a dialogue between our waking consciousness and the often repressed preoccupations of our unconscious mind. He saw individuation as a path toward discerning wholeness in seemingly irreconcilable opposites, a way of holding darkness within the psyche, a way of learning to live with the chaos and disorder of our lives.”

― Francisco Cantú, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border
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