In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Psychotherapy and Social Work

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Evidence for the Effectiveness of Psychotherapy

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Social Work Psychotherapy and Social Work
James Drisko
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0261


Psychotherapy is an interactive process for the treatment of a client’s mental health or behavioral problems. It seeks to explore thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to solve intrapsychic problems or to enhance one’s level of interpersonal functioning. Psychotherapy may be provided in individual, couple, dyadic, family, group or multiple family group modalities—though this bibliography will focus only on psychotherapy with adults using an individual modality. Psychotherapy is provided by a qualified mental health professional, typically a clinical social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or other licensed professional. Depending on the issue being addressed, psychotherapy may be provided alone or in combination with medications or other related support and service programs. Psychotherapy is a term that encompasses a wide variety of theories, methods, and techniques. Its great variety makes it difficult to define and describe succinctly. Psychotherapy has deep and longstanding roots in medicine, traditional healing, psychology, social work, nursing, and education. Various psychotherapies may draw upon single or combined theoretical foundations, may use unique or widely shared methods and techniques. The evidence base for different psychotherapies varies widely, and may take on different forms to address appropriately the theoretical premises, specific objectives, and methods employed. There are many types of psychotherapy: Wikipedia lists 150 named types; lists 148 of the “most common” types of psychotherapy. The American Psychological Association identifies five broad approaches to psychotherapy: psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, and integrative. This bibliography will focus mainly on these five widely practiced forms of psychotherapy as well as trauma theory and therapy. This bibliography will also address the research evidence supporting the effectiveness of psychotherapy in this era of evidence-based practice.

Histories and Introductory Works

British physician Walter Cooper Dendy first used the term psychotherapy in 1853 to refer to “the helpful influence of a healer’s mind upon that of a sufferer” (Jackson 1999, p. 9). German physician Wilhelm Wundt opened the first psychological laboratory in 1879 at the University of Leipzig to study the workings of the mind. Wundt, known as the father of experimental psychology, also began the first psychology journal in 1881. Yet many current students view Sigmund Freud as the father of psychotherapy—the talking cure. From 1890 to the 1930s, Freud emphasized the importance of the relationship between the client and the therapist, viewed problems as multiply determined, identified unconscious meanings and motives, and saw change as based on increasing self-knowledge and self-awareness. At the beginning of the 1900s, behavioral models of change emerged through the work of Pavlov, Wolpe, and Skinner. These models focused on the associations between behavior and positive or negative reinforcements that followed specific behaviors. Later work by Ellis and Beck linked cognition with behavior change. For the cognitive-behaviorists, associations between behavior and reinforcements were understood as mediated by cognition or internal messages to one’s self. By the 1960s, a humanist/existential approach became evident through the work of Frankel, Maslow, Moustakas, and Rogers. The humanists emphasized the realization of human potential and the positive qualities and actions of people rather than problem behavior and psychopathology. Still other scholars and practitioners emphasized the shared or “common” aspects of psychotherapy and healing. Rosenzwieg argued that “common factors” found in all psychotherapies contributed more to change than did their different, specific techniques. This perspective led to the psychotherapy integration movement that seeks to combine elements of various psychotherapies. Studies of contemporary psychotherapists document that most are eclectic in their practices, drawing on varied elements of different theories to address client needs among increasingly socially diverse populations.

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