Tag Archives: Integration

Integrative Psychotherapy X: Schema interventions for depression

In the last chapter the authors theorized about our propensity to live out of socially constructed schemas. Now in chapter 9 of Integrative Psychotherapy, McMinn and Campbell apply schema-focused interventions (domain 2–dipping beneath symptoms to core issues) to the problem of depression. But before they get to that task, they make these 2 points:

1. It’s “incorrect and potentially dangerous” (p. 278) to assume one does symptom focused interventions with anxiety problems and deeper level interventions for depression. Instead, the therapist ought to move seamlessly between them as needed. They remind the reader that their chapters are illustrations and not manuals.
2. There are useful symptom based interventions for the problem of depression that should not be overlooked: (a) medications (they explore fallacies that keep people of faith from using them and point out that meds are sometimes better than counseling alone), (b) behavioral techniques (keeping an activity schedule, assertiveness training), and (c) cognitive restructuring (keeping a dysfunctional thought and challenge record).

At this point the authors begin to illustrate their version of schema-based interventions. Unlike classic interventions (diagnosing the underlying schema and then correcting it), they describe recursive schema activation which is designed to “give clients many opportunities, session after session, to decenter [see life from another perspective] from the deep, persistent themes of their lives that can never be fully obliterated” (p. 288-9). The main difference between the IP model and the classic model is their humility in seeing schemas as understood and managed rather than corrected. Also, they desire to activate and experience schemas as much as talk about them.

The goal of this part of IP is to stand apart from one’s schema so as to see it and choose to deactivate it where it is not helpful. In the case of depression, it means standing back from “depressogenic thoughts” using mindfulness and spiritual disciplines. The client doesn’t challenge thoughts so much as he or she activates the schema in counseling over and over in a manner that allows distance and the possible formation of a new schema or identity.

Just how does this work in therapy? McMinn and Campbell suggest these strategies:

1. Taking a life history to identify re-occurring themes that might signify the presence of maladaptive schematics (e.g., long history of feeling rejected by others). In taking the history, the client not only tells but re-experiences the schema with the counselor
2. Schema inventories. They mention one in particular: www.schematherapy.com. These are used to get the client thinking about schemas that contribute to their problems.
3. Discussion of faith. The therapist explores how the client’s view of God fits in their view of self. The assumption is that a maladaptive schema likely contains distortions of the character of God. The goal is to understand at this point, not correct.
4. Moving from specific to general. Clients often describe recent painful events (and thoughts and feelings). The therapist encourages the client to explore how these thoughts and feelings fit their general conclusions in life (e.g., people always leave me).
5. Looking for themes. The counselor looks to articulate and activate themes and creates space for the client to do the same.
6. Evoking emotions. The counselor needs to move from an intellectual discussion to the emotions attache to the schema. Often-times, this means using the here-and-now to explore emotions. Otherwise clients only report on feelings in a disconnected manner. If so, they remain disconnected from the insights they gather.
7. Guided discovery (vs. just telling the client the interpretations). The authors present a good illustration  of the difference between telling and collaboration on p. 298.
8. Imagery and meditation. The goal here is to use these techniques to activate and deactivate schemas. Why? They suggest these techniques support safety (to limit overwhelming oneself). They do note that while prayer may help in schema alteration its primary purpose is to connect with God and shouldn’t be thought of as some technique apart from its main purpose.

Finally, in the last 13 pages the authors take up how recursive schema activation is a bridge-building exercise. It bridges cognitive processes (logic, analysis) and emotional and relational processes; unconscious and conscious processes; past and present; events and meanings that we give them; schema activation and deactivation. They conclude that not every person has the psychological resources to deactivate schemas once activated and point the reader to the next two chapters where relationship interventions will need to be used.

MY THOUGHTS: This is a good chapter that describes what I think is core to therapy: self-observation in a safe environment that happens as much through experience as it does through logical analysis. The reality is that our schemas shape our sense of self and the world as much as our 5 senses do. We think we merely ascertain what is happening to us but in fact we are prepping our critical thinking with assumptions. Here’s my question. Is the schema something that can be changed. I hear the authors saying that they aren’t all that optimistic about it but just maybe we can control it, decide not to listen to it. In part I agree. And yet I don’t want to underestimate just how much a person can change their outlook on life and self. Where I think the biggest challenge lies is helping clients feel safe enough to accept that they make these assumptions. In couples counseling I find many/most couples unwilling to consider the possibility that their assumptions about their no-good spouse were formed before the ever met their spouse. They come wanting to fix the marriage and part of my job is to help them see that before they can fix the marriage they need to understand how their responses tell a lot about themselves and maybe less about their spouse than they think. This is hard for counselees to accept because it sounds to them that they are responsible for their spouse’s bad behavior. Helping a client not live in all/nothing thinking is my challenge. Further, I must make sure not to fall into “telling” mode when helping someone come to this realization. Sometimes I want to speed up the process and thereby lose the client.


Filed under book reviews, christian counseling, christian psychology, Cognitive biases, counseling skills, Depression

Integrative Psychotherapy VI: Assessment and Conceptualization

In chapter 6 of Integrative Psychotherapy: Toward a Comprehensive Christian Approach, McMinn and Campbell take up the matter of case conceptualization. Thus far they have been discussing the foundations and features of their therapy model. Just before going into deeper looks and clinical applications of their 3 domains, they stop to look at the concept of assessment and case planning. Why does case planning matter?

“Assessment is the task of systematically observing what signs and symptoms a client experiences. These signs and symptoms are then understood through a particular theoretical grid, resulting in a case conceptualization (a framework for understanding the symptoms). Case conceptualization is an effort to understand the cause of the symptoms, the role the symptoms play in the person’s experience and treatment strategies to help the person improve.” (p. 145)  The authors acknowledge that this task of assessment and conceptualization are neither linear nor without bias. As they say, the very questions one asks determines to some degree the data one gets and how one interprets that data.

They pose 3 questions for the Christian counselor. Is evaluation acceptable for Christians? Isn’t Christian assessment mostly a matter of identifying sin? How is Christian evaluation unique? I’ll dispense with the first two assuming we agree the answers are in order: yes. no, not only. How is Christian evaluation unique? It doesn’t settle for simplistic biological, behavioral, or volitional explanations of symptom manifestations. That probably isn’t unique. What is unique then? The starting point about human nature.

The rest of the chapter describes key assessment and conceptualization practices. Collect data from multiple sources. Make a diagnosis (they describe the benefits and drawbacks of making a DSM diagnosis and how it is the start of assessment, not the end). Consider etiology (predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors). Consider client factors (client perceptions, expectations, ability to work with a therapist, additional strengths and resources). The authors also want IP counselors to assess the specific areas of maladaptive thoughts, schemas, and interpersonal relationships. They provide sample lines of questions to explore each area. Finally, they suggest that the counselor consider whether the data they collect in each of the above assessment areas is likely to facilitate or inhibit therapy. This action may guide clinicians as to where to start (if at all) and what kinds of goals might remove a specific therapy interfering behavior

My thoughts? I like this chapter. It provides a concise reminder to the beginning counselor regarding the basic data they should collect. It does remind us that our interpretive grids impact the data we get and the interpretations we make. We are not so objective. In light of that, I do wonder whether the DSM diagnosis is a good place to start. By starting there does not the clinician tempt herself to think only in light of classic psychiatric models. I would rather see the diagnosis happen at the end. In this way, the clinician can report to the client whether it is helpful to consider the diagnosis. For example, a child may look ADHD, but by collecting the other data, it may be clear that the child has a primary trauma or anxiety type problem.


Filed under book reviews, christian counseling, christian psychology

Integrative Psychotherapy IV

In chapter 3 of Integrative Psychotherapy, McMinn and Campbell provide a nice overview of a significant portion of their theoretical foundation–Cognitive therapy. They begin by discussing the so-called cognitive revolution in the 1960s (over against mechanistic behaviorism and the prior king, psychoanalysis). They remind us how this revolution continues to shape the landscape of mental health (empirically-validated treatments, short-term therapy, self-help books, etc.).

Going into more detail, McMinn and Campbell divide Cognitive therapies into 2 broad categories: Semantic Cognitive Therapy (SCT) and Constructivist Cognitive Therapy (CCT). What is the main difference between the two? SCT’s premise is that people attribute feelings to the events/circumstances in their life, but only simplistically–overlooking their interpretive thoughts about the situation. The authors provide this common diagram: Events -> Thoughts -> Feelings. SCT is designed to help folks critique their thought patterns and evaluate their rationality. Once this happens, it is supposed that individuals will then have more control over their feelings. They mention Albert Ellis’ REBT model: Activiating event -> Belief -> Consequential emotion. This leads to his treatment: Disputing irrational beliefs -> revised cognitive Effect. They also mention Aaron Beck’s additions to SCT in his description of Core Beliefs that color one’s view of the world and self and are highly resistant to change. While there are some benefits to SCT (revealing our tendencies to assume the worst, making mountains out of molehills) McMinn and Campbell find this model to oversimplify “the complexities of human change.” (p. 85).

CCT began to develop in the later 80s and 90s, per the authors, to address the problem of linearity in SCT. Instead of merely assuming that we react to events, CCT recognizes that how we shape events and feelings can also shape interpretations. “Our beliefs do not simply reflect a passive understanding or misunderstanding of reality; they actually change reality…” (p. 86). From this point, the authors go into a sidebar apology on constructivist philosophy, but not radical constructionism. “One can still believe in external authority and truth while acknowledging that human processes influence the actual events of everyday life.” Also, “Christians can and should accept the premise that personal values and perceptions of reality end up changing reality itself.” (p. 87) Unfortunately, CCT sputters and fades because of a new focus on Empirically Validated Therapies which are based on SCT models.

The remaining 20 pages of the chapter provide the authors’ critique of the the CT foundations and model. On the plus side, they see how CT has a lot of commonsense to it, has clear goals/objectives in focus, is time-limited, and supported by scientific research. As a model it does not have a deterministic mindset. Rather, CT believes in at least partial human agency–you can change how you think, see, feel, etc. You are not merely robotically determined by your past. On the negative side, they acknowledge that CT is rather disconnected from well thought out foundations. They call it a practical response to the frustration of analytic models. CT is, in their words, free-floating interventions without the foundation of a good theory. Further, they point out several false premises within CT and support with examples to the contrary: healthy people think rationally, cognitive errors are usually negative, healthy, rational people eliminate negative emotion, thoughts come before feelings, and we are motivated to be more rational. Finally, they charge CT with being “pragmatic rationalism” (I’d call it pragmatic modernistic rationalism) and point out the problem that it doesn’t deal well (at least as originally designed) with the importance of feelings, relationships, culture, fallen human condition, values, etc. in the process of change. They also point out that some of the Christian versions of CT fall into some of these false premises as well. “The Christian narrative is not primarily about correcting sloppy or ineffectual thinking. We are not taught in Scripture that the path to wholeness is found in better thinking. The bible is a narrative about humans being created for relationship with God and one another, struggling because those relationships are now tainted by the devastating effects of sin, and living with the hope of creation restored.” (p. 109).

My thoughts: I’m glad to see they critiqued the problems in CT. In fact, they did it so well, I’m surprised they didn’t do much more to defend why they keep it rather than looking for an entirely new model. Maybe that will get explained in the next chapters. They avoid the simplistic view that CT is similar to the put off/put on message of the bible. I’m glad they presented the material in the SCT vs. CCT description. I did wonder why CCT didn’t take off given its affinity with postmodern philosophies of science. I would quibble with their bible passages used to defend a chastened constructivism. I have no problems defending a form of social constructionism. But, the passages picked from 1 Peter have more to do about the fact that we influence others than about whether our assumptions about the world construct a portion of reality. I would have liked to see them build a more christian or theological model for CCT and relating it to emotions and narratival therapies. I understand the chapter was already getting long but I would have also like to see them connect the dots in other therapies that have cognitive features (e.g., emotion-focused therapy, Mindfulness, etc.).  


Filed under book reviews, christian psychology, Uncategorized