Eclecticism In Psychology: 6 Advantages And Disadvantages Of This Form Of Intervention

Many therapists prefer to combine different psychological currents depending on the case.

In twentieth-century psychology, models and interventions emerged that did not strictly adhere to a theoretical orientation, but rather combined the contributions of several. For example, the interpersonal therapy of Klerman and Weissman, which emerged in the 1970s, was influenced by psychoanalysis,  behaviorism, and cognitivism.

Eclecticism promotes explanatory and applied frameworks that seek to overcome the limitations of traditional perspectives, although their greater complexity can lead to difficulties. In this article we will describe the advantages and disadvantages of eclecticism in psychology, as well as the types of integration that exist.

Types of eclecticism in psychology

There are a large number of eclectic models that combine contributions from different theoretical orientations. These are classified according to the way in which the integration of paradigms is carried out.

1. Theoretical integration

In theoretical eclecticism , concepts from different theories are combined, generally using one of them as a frame of reference. The objective of this type of integration is to increase the explanatory capacity before certain problems.

Dollard and Miller’s “Personality and Psychotherapy: An Analysis in Terms of Learning, Thought, and Culture” was a milestone in the history of eclecticism in psychology. In it, the authors synthesized the explanations of neurosis offered by psychoanalysis and behaviorism and combined concepts such as “pleasure” and “reinforcement.”

A particular case is that of metatheoretical integration, which seeks to offer a common framework in which different theories can be encompassed. For example, Neimeyer and Feixas have highlighted the suitability of constructivism as a higher-level theory that allows the convergence of models.

2. Technical eclecticism

This type of eclecticism consists of using techniques of different orientations. Lazarus, one of the pioneers of technical eclecticism, argued that theoretical integration is not feasible due to the contradictions of different perspectives, although many different tools can be useful under certain conditions.

A common criterion in technical eclecticism is the level of efficacy demonstrated empirically. In this case, we seek to find the most appropriate treatments for each situation, according to scientific research.

On the other hand, “intuitive eclecticism” is called the integration of techniques based exclusively on the ideas and preferences of the psychologist. Many people have criticized this type of practice for its lack of systematization.

3. Common factors approach

Theorists of this approach seek to identify the common factors that explain the efficacy of psychological interventions. Authors such as Rosenzweig, Fiedler, and  Rogers paved the way for this type of eclecticism with their studies and models on the therapist’s attitude as a key variable.

Jerome Frank identified six factors common to different psychotherapeutic orientations:

  • Trust relationship between the therapist and the client.
  • Offering a rational and credible explanation of the problems.
  • Providing new information about problems.
  • Expectations of improvement by the client.
  • Opportunity to have experiences of success and promote the feeling of dominance.
  • Facilitation of emotional activation.

Advantages of eclecticism

The advantages of eclecticism are related to the increase in the complexity of the explanations and the availability of a greater number of tools.

1. Greater explanatory capacity

Theoretical models, as well as the corresponding interventions, prioritize certain aspects of reality over others. Thus, for example, cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses almost exclusively on manifest behavior and the conscious perception of the person, while psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious.

The combination of different orientations makes it possible to overcome the explanatory limitations of each particular model, supplying the weak points with the strong points of other perspectives. It is more common to occur in complementary paradigms, such as the cognitive and behavioral paradigms.

2. Enhancement of effectiveness

Having concepts and techniques from different approaches allows using the most appropriate tools for each situation instead of those indicated by a specific theory; this increases the effectiveness of interventions. It also makes it easier to apply holistic treatments, that is, aimed at the person as a whole.

3. Individualization of interventions

Anyone has characteristics that differentiate them from the rest; therefore, tailoring interventions to each client is essential. Eclecticism is very useful in this regard, since the increase in the range of treatments makes it possible to better meet the different needs of clients.

Disadvantages of eclecticism

The negative side of eclecticism can be very relevant at times. This depends mainly on the level of complexity in the integration.

1. Difficulty combining orientations

Integrating different perspectives is complicated from a conceptual point of view, among other things because it requires a very deep knowledge of the orientations and techniques involved if a model is to be generated properly. This difficulty is especially notable in theoretical eclecticism.

2. It can be confusing

Even if the explanatory capacity of eclectic models and interventions is usually greater than that of the classics, these can be difficult to transmit to experts who do not master any of the orientations in question. Also, integrative models sometimes offer unnecessarily complex explanations.

3. Complicates the evaluation of interventions

From a research point of view, eclectic interventions are more difficult to evaluate than simple ones. In particular, it is very difficult to separate the therapeutic contributions of each of the orientations or techniques used.

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