What are the different theoretical orientations

Different Theoretical Approaches | Castonguay Lab

Most forms of psychotherapy can be associated with four major theoretical orientations: cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, psychodynamic, and systemic. All of them are important to our understanding and conducting of psychotherapy. We also believe that a fruitful way to capture the complexity of change and to improve our treatment of psychopathology is to consider contributions from each of these approaches.

Accordingly, the work and research conducted in our lab takes place in the context of a movement called “Psychotherapy Integration”. This movement involves four themes: theoretical orientation, systematic eclecticism, common factors, and assimilative integration.

Included here are links to publications about the integration movement in general (Castonguay et al., 2015; Castonguay, Holtforth, & Maramba, 2005; Boswell et al., 2010, Castonguay et al., 2003), as well as a description of a personal and professional journey toward this movement (Castonguay, 2006).

Among the themes of integration, our lab is more strongly interested in common factors and assimilative integration.

Common Factors

Although each theory of psychotherapy emphasizes specific concepts (e.g., distorted thoughts, transference) and particular techniques (e.g., cognitive restructuring, analysis of defense), research is showing that change in therapy is explained in part by factors that are common to different forms of therapy. In this lab, we believe that identification of principles of change is a useful way to conceptualize and study these common factors. Among the principles of change that we focus most of our attention are the development and repair of alliance; the acquisition of a new perspective of self and others; and the fostering of corrective experiences.

Included here are links to theoretical and research publications address different types of common factors: McAleavey & Castonguay, 2015; Castonguay et al. , 2010; Castonguay et al., 2010; Constantino et al., 2010; Zack, Castonguay, & Boswell, 2007; Beutler, Castonguay, & Follette, 2006; Castonguay & Beutler, 2006; Castonguay, Constantino, & Grosse Holtforth, 2006; Beutler & Castonguay, 2005; Castonguay & Beutler, 2005; Castonguay et al., 2005; Castonguay & Grosse Holtforth, 2005; Grosse Holtforth & Castonguay, 2005; Klein et al., 2003; Castonguay, 2000; Castonguay, 1997; Castonguay et al., 1996; Castonguay, 1993; Raue, Castonguay, & Goldfried, 1993.

Assimilative Integration

One way to improve one particular form of therapy is to assimilate, within this approach, concepts and techniques that have been developed within other theoretical orientations.

You will find publications describing conceptual and empirical efforts to improve cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy within an assimilative integrative perspective included here: Nelson & Castonguay, 2017; Newman, Castonguay, & Jacobson, 2015; Boswell et al. , 2011; Newman et al., 2011; Newman et al., 2008; Castonguay, Newman, & grosse Holftorth, 2019; Newman et al., 2004; Castonguay et al., 2004; Goldfried & Castonguay, 1993.

Full references are available from Dr. Castonguay’s CV.

Understanding Theoretical Orientation in Counseling

Theoretical Orientation in counseling is defined by the American Psychological Association as “an organized set of assumptions or preferences for given theories that provides a counselor or clinician with a conceptual framework for understanding a client’s needs and for formulating a rationale for specific interventions.” 

This is a cornerstone concept in psychotherapy that focuses on the psychological theories that therapists use to understand behavior and how professionals use these theories to guide their work with clients. Theoretical orientation in counseling essentially refers to what concepts or perspectives a mental health professional uses to assess, understand, and treat their clients.  

Any theory that a mental health provider uses to guide their practice is their theoretical orientation. There are dozens of theoretical orientations that providers can operate under when working with clients. A therapist can alter their theoretical orientation depending on the specific needs of the client. 


Types of Theoretical Orientations or Perspectives 


Cognitive Behavioral Theory 

The cognitive-behavioral theory operates under the idea that how a person thinks, feels, and acts all interact in tandem. Providers that use CBT as theoretical orientation in counseling treat clients under the assumption that thoughts determine feelings and behavior and that negative thoughts and feelings can cause problems. 

An example of CBT as a theoretical orientation in the therapeutic setting might look like a provider visiting with a client that is experiencing persistent negative thoughts and is having trouble completing tasks day-to-day. A therapist using CBT techniques assumes that the thoughts are what is causing the inability to complete tasks. Treatment would then be formed to address the negative thoughts so that the client’s behaviors can improve. 

Dialectical behavioral therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a subcategory of CBT that is more niche in its approach. This theoretical orientation is geared toward the regulation of strong emotions as they relate to the concept of self and relationships with others with a heavy focus on mindfulness. 

An example of a DBT theoretical orientation might look like a client coming to the provider for help with severe anxiety. If the client has trouble self-regulating their emotions enough to calm down, then the provider might find DBT as a useful tool to help them achieve better self-soothing and emotional control. The treatment plan would then be oriented toward mindfulness and learning skills to improve the client’s experience. 


Gestalt therapy revolves around the phenomenological method of awareness. This client-centered psychotherapy aims to help bring clients in full focus with the present moment rather than dwelling too long on the past or anxiously dreading the future. This theory believes that individuals have control over their emotions and behaviors and need to take responsibility for them if they hope to change. 

An example of when a therapist might use a gestalt theoretical orientation in counseling might involve a client seeking services who have trouble seeing how they play a role in their own actions. They might have a person to blame for how they act or an event in their life that they believe made them the way they are. The therapist might choose to adopt a gestalt theoretical orientation in counseling to help their clients gain insight into their own role in their life and help them find peace and responsibility into where they are in the present day. 

Attachment Theory 

Attachment theory is centered on the idea that an individual’s attachments or relationships to their caregivers play a critical role in future attachments. There are several types of attachments including secure, anxious, disorganized, and avoidant. This theory operates under the assumption that each attachment style will stay with the individual through development and find the consequences of that attachment style in their adult relationships. 

A provider might adopt the attachment theoretical orientation in counseling if they encounter a client that is struggling in their romantic relationship or is maybe struggling to maintain healthy relationships at all. Especially if the client is showing symptoms that model the consequences of any single particular attachment style. The treatment would then be geared toward helping the client understand that attachment style and learn skills to form secure and healthy attachments in future or current relationships. 

There are dozens of other evidence-based theories that a provider might adopt as their theoretical orientation in counseling depending on the unique needs and situation of the client.  


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General characteristics of the main theoretical orientations in modern social psychology.

1st stage formation of socio-psychological knowledge, the first social theories ( peoples of Latsorus and Steinthal, the masses of Le Bon and Siegel, theories of instincts social behavior McDougall, peoples of Wundt - 19th century)

2. The stage is dated 1908 , when the first two systematic social psychology manuals: McDougall (European tradition) "Introduction to Social Psychology" and Ross “Social (starts American social gy). After the 1st World War in the works of Allport and Møde a program was formulated transformation of socialgy into the experimental. Rapid development cap. economy in the US has put forward a number of requirements related to the need increase in labor productivity, the development of the media, the strengthening of the importance propaganda and advertising, development management methods. dominance arises American social science, social thought West. nine0017

3. The third stage comes after the 2nd world. war and continues to present. time. He coincides with the development of social thoughts in socialist countries (strengthening the positions of Marxism).

First half of the 20th century marked identification of the entire Western social gie with American option in the tradition of American philosophy of the 20th century. Americanism manifested in social psychology is that the load traditions did not burden the activity researchers. In Europe - appeal to the gia of large groups (peoples, masses). philosophical preoccupation orientation passed the American social psychologists. In America there was orientation to applied knowledge in interests of such social institutions as business, administration, army, propaganda. Pragmatism and positivism traditional for American philosophy have become the basis of socio-psychological research. nine0017

Features of modern socio-psychological research (Sheriff).

1) Formulation of a special problem, a solution which can be obtained on the basis of collected data and their analysis.

2) Selecting and defining clear, generally accepted concepts.

3) Methods of data collection d.b. accepted by everyone.

4) Data verification: each researcher must be able to verify the conclusions of the other. Because only have the right to exist research that is data collection purely theoretical work are excommunicated from research rank. FROM this t.z. social Psychology “modern” is experimental, “non-modern” - non-experimental, speculative. In this sense, social gia is opposed social-kim knowledge 2nd half 19century.

With strict adherence to the principle verification general judgments of science in general have no right to exist. difference modern social gy from the traditional also in that for was traditional moralizing, while the modern does emphasis on the fact that it is science, and science is something that excludes morality. It is a knowledge system based on image of exact disciplines. The main idea: modern social gy is scientific social psychology and she's synonymous with american social psychology. Attitude towards European tradition: it is precisely tradition , in unlike modern science .

If the period of becoming an experimental orientation gave birth to neghilism towards theory, now they are increasingly calling the need for its development. Exist a number of fundamental works on this issue - Deutsch and Krause theory in social psychology, Shaw and Costanzo theory of social psychology. These works defend the idea of ​​necessity proportional development of the two spheres scientific knowledge - theoretical and experimental. This is new this approach compared to the 20s. nine0017

The controversy surrounding the issue of attitude to the theory coincided with another discussion - regarding the status of social gy in the system sociological disciplines. In time highlighting socialgy into an independent science a number of areas experienced scientific knowledge in it necessity. This isgia, sociology and anthropology, linguistics, ethnography, criminology. In American social science the issue of dual social status. Newcomb: in the US there are 2 social psychology “sociological sociology” (accepted the necessity of theories) and “Psychological social psychology" (hostile to theorizing). To 20th century American sociology changed radically. She established empirical trend: stereotype social theorist gave way stereotype of the social engineer. Dominance of neo-positivist principles helped establish the cult of the statistical ritual, absolutization of quantitative methods, uncritical acceptance of principles operationalism and verification. Thus, in the first third of the 20th century, it can be stated general tendencies of philosophy orientation neopositivism with the following principles:

1) respect for accurate data

2) the need for improvement mathematical procedures

3) the requirement of strict construction and testing the proposed hypotheses.

However, the essence of the positivist methodology in that each of them absolutized and thus included other image of science, except as science, built on models of exact knowledge (physics). Based on this, there “cult of the method”, which reduces interest in content side, turns around shifting the researcher's attention only on forms of behavior in case of refusal or underestimation of its essence. It leads to a reassessment of the value of laboratory experiment and to the denial of the need social behavior research in natural conditions. nine0017

All of this took place against a social backdrop. strengthening the positions of pragmatism and positivism in the USA in the 20-30s: development requirements ways to manage behavior predictions, pursuit immediate recommendations providing immediate win for business, propaganda and the army.

The exception in this situation was activity Kurt Lewin which along with the development of practice pilot study remained a major theoretician (the theory fields). At 1948 after Levin's death there is a change in attitude towards opportunities for the existence of large theories. Along with them, there are theories less generalized “ theory middle rank ” developed by for the first time in the 40s. in American Sociology by Merton. Merton proposed to allocate there are three levels in the structure of sociology knowledge: 1) general, all-encompassing theories, 2) theories of average rank, 3) empirical generalizations obtained directly in empirical research.

Thus, the average rank of theories is the average level of generalizations between workers hypotheses and comprehensive theories. On based on Merton's proposal American sociology in the 1950s developed a number of private sociological theories that have come to be identified with subject areas of sociological knowledge (sociology of the family, sociology youth, social cities, etc.). Examples such theories can also be called theory frustration and aggression Miller and Dollar , theory of cognitive dissonance Festinger , competition theory and Deutsch cooperation, the theory of social authorities of Cartwright and French.

Rejection of general theories and acceptance of the idea the theory of average rank puts in a new way the question of the traditional division of social psychology for schools. In classic the period of development of science school coincided with theory and schools differed in that What is the theory behind the research? (Wundt school and Wundt theory, school Freud and Freud's theory, Weber's school and Weber theory). experimental the orientation of science changes this situation. The school is now centered around a certain system of methods used when analyzing a certain group of phenomena. Enriching the means of scientific research and the increasing complexity of tasks make the subject of scientific creativity individual researchers, but whole teams of scientists. Acceptance inside a team of unified research methods, complex system of division of labor are significant factors uniting such a team, rather than belonging to one theory. nine0017

There are different points of view on the fate of schools in the era of scientific and technological revolution. They believe that the importance of schools in science is lost. Other identify school with research team. Uniting such a team a common problem becomes a factor research, unified methodological an approach. The school of such kind can give in the form of a specific research result. This d-t becomes more directly responding to practice requests and more prestigious. Therefore, the value of d-ty is devalued scientist for the "production" of theories, such a result is generated by the general orientation methodology of science into philosophical principles of neopositivism. nine0017

McDavid and Harari talk about the most important feature of today's state of the American social psychology about its eclecticism , i.e. not only about the simultaneous existence different theoretical schools, but also about erasing the boundaries between them, about mutual borrowing various positions, about existence of mutually exclusive principles in the same study.

These processes radically changed the overall picture of the state of the theoretical social psychology in the USA. nine0017

Contrast between huge array qualified research and weak effectiveness of social psychology requires an explanation. It makes scientists to investigate the quality of theories and their boundaries, the relationships between them. The question is which theoretical orientations are today for social psychology in the West is the most characteristic does not have an unambiguous solutions. modern schools do not match in its meaning with the classical theoretical schools and differences theories are not so significant today since point of view of the principles of approach to analysis object. These differences become distinct not when comparing individual theories, but when analyzing broader orientations (Shaw and Constanzo introduce so the notion of "orientation": in the opposite of theory as a network interrelated hypotheses orientation denotes a general approach to analysis and interpretation of behavior). First systematic presentation of the question of main theoretical orientations, or directions, has been done in the work nine0003 F. Karpf American Social psychology”, and then in article by G. Allport . Later work D. Martindale "Nature and types of social theories" (1960). In these research has suggested two principles on which to distinguish theoretical positions of social psychologists: 1) resolving the issue of nature part 2) the prevailing problem (study range of problems).

Deutsch and Krauss - various theoretical approaches:

1) Gestalt theory comes from understanding progenies of man, when the main focus research is development meaningful and organized view w-ka on the world, nine0017

2) behaviorism is characterized by interest to attempts to understand the situation of his behavior,

3) for psychoanalysis, h-to is a battlefield between wildlife and society, represented by the family

4) for a role theory that recognizes social determinism h-ka, it is important how the role of a person in society determines values ​​that are significant to him, etc.

Lindsay and Aronson have: behaviorism, Freudianism, cognitive field theory, role theory. nine0017

At Shibutanpi - psychoanalysis, behaviorism, gestalt theory, interactionism;

McDavid and Harry psychoanalysis, behaviorism, cognitive theories;

at Shaw and Constanzo – focus on reinforcement theory, focus on field theory, cognitive orientation, psychoanalytic orientation, transoriented approach, including role theory.

It is easy to see that almost always present as theoretical three landmarks of social psychology classical psychological directions: behaviorism, psychoanalysis, gestalt theory (cognitive theories combine theories fields and Gestalt theory). nine0017

More difficult is the question of interactionist orientation (orientation to the theory of roles). has a sociological origin - it goes back to tradition G. Mead . Mention or non-mention of this orientation depends on whether received sociological researcher or psychological education.

Dual status of social psychology fixed in the USA and organizationally, since the sections of social psychology exist both within the American psychological, and within the American osciological associations. nine0017

Conclusion: full specification of theoretical positions can be obtained by including in list of destinations at least four : behaviorism, cognitivism, psychoanalysis, interactionism .

Efforts are being made to complicate criteria for different theoretical directions.

McDavies and Harari offer 6 criteria:

1) the main source of data for observation,

2) concepts used to describe motivation or personality nine0017

3) the role assigned to consciousness in behavior,

4) the role of the unconscious in the story.

5) the role of the external environment,

6) the role of the socio-cultural environment.

Here the question arises that each theoretical orientation produces own conceptual apparatus for describing psychological phenomena (categories, concepts, principles). depends on its development the quality of the information obtained and in z the possibility using this information to manage mental processes. This the categorical apparatus is associated with the set topics of scientific research, subject area that creates a model of science, taken in a certain period of time development or within the scientific community. This model is defined as a paradigm with t.z. Kuhn - the author of this idea - in science Quiet periods can be identified when a definite paradigm is established, when she outlives herself, she is replaced a new paradigm comes, and the period transition is designated as scientific the revolution. nine0017

Today for social psychology idea paradigm acquires one of the central places. Because parent disciplines of social. psychology is psycho. and sociology, question does not have an unambiguous solution: some believe that psychology is paradigm knowledge, others - what's in the history of psychology can be distinguished 2 paradigms: introspectionist and behaviorist; in sociology in the 1940s. Merton put forward the idea that the new paradigm yavl. functionalist (idea conformity, balance of social systems). Today this paradigm is considered in American sociology outdated themselves and there is a discussion which paradigm will replace her. American. researchers believe that the crisis of social psychology takes place in the form of a paradigm shift. nine0017

The forerunner of the concept of paradigm yavl. concept conceptual frame (scheme) is a representation that captures general context within the framework that works researcher. conceptual framework can characterize a certain school or approach to a particular problem. Important in terms of theoretical eclecticism yavl. trace how in research coexist different theoretical approaches. They can appear directly or indirectly: 1) mixing styles, 2) direct connection two different approaches, 3)transition problems traditional for the school in another school. N-r, a typical problem behaviorism yavl. learning. However, The problem of learning is also posed in cognitivism. And in the study behaviorists crossed the phenomena of aggression and frustrations (works by Miller and Dollard) from psychoanalysis. Of the four theoretical directions in Amer. social psychology special place is occupied by cognitivism. Attitude research is a whole era (30s - 40s) in the 60s. favorite becomes another issue. predicting the development of social psychology, McGuire claims it will problem of language or social perception. The issue continues to stand out interactionist concept related with the study of problems of symbolism roles of reference groups. Transition problems from one theoretical orientation to other yavl. natural process. At analysis of the prospects for the development of Amer. social psychology is considered. that decisive changes will not change the content of theories, but changes in the way use of theories (the question of methodological role of theories). nine0017

In the methodological key, 2 question about theoretical knowledge in social psychology: 1) about the ratio theoretical and empirical levels social psycho. research, 2)about attitude theoretical knowledge to the problem values ​​(in the formulation of this question, Ch. social plays a role. psychologists from Europe).

Leaving aside the question, which theory directs research in the US raises the question of whether a theory should at all be present in the experimental social psychology.

Shaw and Costanzo formulated 5 criteria for a good theory:

1) e.b. simple and clear in terms,

2) must be economical in explaining phenomena,

3) should not contradict other theories, which are more true,

4) should give interpretations, to-rye bridge with real life,

5) should serve the general progress of science.

None of the social theories psychology is not is a theory in the strict sense. therefore development of theories, to-rye stimulate and conducting research is the most important task social psychology. This trend is associated in the west with the humanization of science in counterweight to the sceintist orientation. Scientists in science continue to dictate neopositivist canons of research, and the anti-scientist trend includes into the human system of scientific knowledge problems. Philosophical rationale humanistic orientation is being developed representatives of the Frankfurt School (Habermas, Fromm, Adorno), and her works were the ideological source Freud. The requirements of this position are to recognize the specifics of theories, unformulated streaming canon of the natural sciences knowledge. nine0017

Another important discussion about the problem values ​​ . During the reign experimental tradition problems of values ​​in the social-psych. knowledge excluded.

In modern social. psychology are fixed 3 aspects:

1) analysis of the values ​​chosen as subject of scientific research,

2) the value provisions of the social systems,

3) the values ​​of science itself, its effectiveness. The aspect of the problem of values ​​is connected with direction of practical recommendations. In this regard, the question is raised: if progress social psychology should lead to an increase in management capabilities human behavior will not lead Is it for such a manipulation of people, to-paradise conflict with the ideals free development l-ti. N-r, developed based on the behavioral paradigm, behavioral technology reminds the political program of fascism. nine0017

Conclusion: thus, both questions concerning nature of socio-psychological theories - the ratio of empiricism and theory in research, the role of values ​​in theoretical knowledge - acquired greater relevance in recent years. In the body of social psychology stand out 3 areas: theory, methodology, practice research. The third part is the main array of socio-psychological work in the USA. In the field of theory and methodology there are heated debates between the European and American tradition. nine0017

Behaviorism: mechanisms of human behavior | Blog RSV

Have you ever wondered why people in the same situation behave differently, dream about different things, set completely different goals. What influences their actions and guides them? Many scientific areas have been studying human behavior for several decades, one of these is behaviorism. Let's see what this direction is and what the main theories exist.

Behaviorism: definition and subject matter

Behaviorism is a direction in psychology, the subject of which is the behavior of people, animals through a systematic approach. The main idea of ​​this direction is that a person behaves unconsciously, his actions are determined by reflexes and reactions to the triggers of the world around him and are based on the experience of ancestors. Scientists denied such a phenomenon as consciousness, and argued that human actions directly depend on what is happening outside.

Psychologist John Watson is considered the founder of behaviorism. He developed a simple diagram in which he clearly explained how an animal and a person act - a stimulus provokes a reflex. According to Watson, any behavior can be predicted and controlled in advance, if you choose the right approach to the study of behavior. Such an accessible explanation was liked by many. In philosophy, much attention has also been paid to this direction. Philosopher John Locke believed that a person is born without any experience, like a blank slate. And Thomas Hobbes argued that there is no thinking substance, man is a corporeal being. nine0017

The main theses and features of behaviorism

To better understand the ideas and methods of behaviorism, let's consider the main provisions of this direction:

  • behaviorism explores the behavioral reactions of all living beings;
  • human actions are studied only by observing them;
  • all mental, intellectual and physiological actions are dictated by behavior;
  • all actions of living beings are a response to external triggers; nine0242
  • if you determine in advance an external stimulus, then you can guess the further behavior of a person;
  • accurate prediction of behavior is the main goal of behaviorism;
  • can influence or control the behavior of any person;
  • all behavioral responses are acquired from experience or inherited from ancestors;
  • Skills are developed through reflexes, the ability to think or speak is an acquired skill;
  • the environment and living conditions influence the psyche of a living being; nine0242
  • Emotions arise in response to positive or negative triggers in the world around you.

The ideas of behaviorism, based on empirical experience, had a great influence on the scientific community. But any theory will always have both pluses and minuses. Let's consider them in more detail: