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How I discovered my theoretical orientation

When considering my natural orientation outside of academia or psychology, I tend to lean on strength-based approaches that highlight thriving, resiliency, purpose, spirituality, and values. With this thought in mind, I came into the Ph.D. Counseling Psychology program at the University of Georgia believing that my theoretical orientation was simply 3rd wave CBT. I believed this framework aligned with my personal convictions as a budding researcher and psychologist-in-training. I was attracted to the holistic promotion of health and well-being and the inclusion of acceptance and mindfulness as a framework that focused on the wholeness of a person not merely psychopathological symptomology. 

Continued exposure in the doctoral program expanded my knowledge on how to conceptualize a clinical case and prioritize therapeutic goals, as well as challenged me to think more critically about the complex factors that impact human functioning, suffering, and healing.

My reflections led me to reorienting my theoretical framework to embrace a more inclusive and integrative approach. Through such insight, I have concluded that existentialism is the overarching pillar supporting my theoretical orientation, which includes the biopsychosocial-spiritual model and 3rd wave CBT, and psychodynamic theory. The common theme in my integrative approach involves comprehensive care, psychological prosperity and optimal human functioning, and motivations (unconscious or conscious) that drive thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and overall purpose in life. 

As I became more familiar with behavioral health, I recognized how integral psychological functioning was to health behaviors and health outcomes. The biopsychosocial-spiritual model provides a comprehensive framework to understanding health, human development, psychological functioning, transcendent beliefs, coping, and biological and social factors that contribute to overall physical and psychological well-being. Additionally, the biopsychosocial-spiritual model addresses internal and external factors that impact interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships that must be teased apart in order to truly understand the wholeness of an individual. Some clients may desire instant symptom relief and their therapeutic goals are short-term, action-oriented items, others may want to unpack the complexities of their life’s history. For this purpose, I have found psychodynamic theory to be an effective approach to assisting clients who are more interested in a more intensive therapy. Even for shorter-term clients, some psychodynamic techniques can be used to address deeply rooted concerns in a comprehensive manner. My natural inclination to lean on existentialism as a philosophical framework is in some ways tied to psychodynamic theory. For example, if a client wants to thrive in their life, however feels restricted due to past traumas or unresolved history, it will be very difficult to create healing, build resiliency, and move toward optimal functioning without integrating psychoanalytic therapeutic processes. 


Bear witness to the client’s experiences and provide an integrative approach that addresses and honors the various dimensions of their life’s story and reason(s) for seeking treatment.


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