How Most People Learn in Psychotherapy
It is highly important that clients learn from their therapists. In most cases this includes alternative ways of thinking, emoting, and behaving. So what can we learn from educational research on how people learn? Of course we all know it begins with a solid therapeutic alliance – the core, positive clinical relationships. But what follows? The list below notes the most common ways most people learn. However, do not ignore idiosyncratic differences in your own client’s personality, mind and body. Also consider your own capacities and limitations. Here is a list to consider.
Current Knowledge on How People Learn
- Cognitive information is often presented verbally, in written form, via interactive narrative, and by video. Do keep in mind, however, that in most common serious co-occurring disorders cognitive and relational ONLY interventions may not be powerful enough to impact deep brain structures where experienced content from life may be stored and reacted to. It is about the client’s mind-body systems.
- Skills-based learning is often presented via demonstration ,drill, repeated practice (in and out of session), contextualization, and modeling. Clients who act differently not just think differently tend to improve more in therapy. Skill training is a formidable part of contemporary therapy, especially in improving the lives of clients.
- Inquiry-based learning is often presented through case studies, problem analysis and solving, targeted projects, and learning by design. Although inquiry-based learning can be very powerful, it requires considerable thought and preparation on the part of the therapists to do it well.
- Strengths-based learning in both individual and group therapy is commonly presented via self-study, cooperative learning groups, strengths-against-problems formats, games (jigsaw, manipulatives), and peer-to-peer interactions, etc.
- Technological learning has been presented by way of simulations, various electronic tools, assessment analysis, communication devices, etc. Use the internet as well as other electronic devices, especially if your client prefers this.
- Multimodal learning tends to be more powerful. When all the senses are used, more brain cell firing in various parts of the brain will occur. This enhances learning capacity.
- Do an informal learning assessment of your client. Learn what she/he knows about their learning style.
When you give serious thought to how your client may learn best in your own personal therapeutic environment, always consider what learning science may have to offer. Also give thought to your own strengths and limitations as helpers.
For more information refer to National Research Council et al. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, pp. 3-27.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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