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6 advantages and disadvantages of eclecticism in Psychology

In the psychology of the 20th century, models and interventions were emerging that did not strictly adhere to a theoretical orientation, but instead combined the contributions of several. For example, the interpersonal therapy of Klerman and Weissman, which emerged in the 1970s, was influenced by psychoanalysis, by  behaviorism and by 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 is a large number of eclectic models that combine contributions of different theoretical orientations. These are classified according to the way in which the integration of paradigms is carried out.

1. Theoretical integration

In the theoretical eclecticism concepts of 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.

The book “Personality and psychotherapy: an analysis in terms of learning, thought and culture”, by Dollard and Miller, 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 brought together 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 included. 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 because of 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, it is called “intuitive eclecticism” 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. Focus on common factors

The theorists of this approach seek to identify the common factors that explain the effectiveness of psychological interventions. Authors such as Rosenzweig, Fiedler and  Rogers opened the way to this type of eclecticism with their studies and models on the attitude of the therapist as a key variable.

Jerome Frank identified six factors common to the different psychotherapeutic orientations:

  • Relationship of trust between the therapist and the client.
  • Offering a rational and credible explanation of problems.
  • Providing new information about the problems.
  • Expectations of improvement by the client .
  • Opportunity to have successful experiences and favor the feeling of dominance.
  • Facilitation of emotional activation.

Advantages of eclecticism

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

1. Greater explanatory capacity

The 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 conscious perception of the person, while psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious.

The combination of different orientations allows us to overcome the explanatory limitations of each particular model , supplying the weak points with the strengths of other perspectives. It is more frequent to occur in complementary paradigms, as happens with the cognitive and behavioral paradigms.

2. Empowerment of effectiveness

Having concepts and techniques from different approaches allows you to use the most appropriate tools for each situationinstead of those indicated by a specific theory; this increases the effectiveness of the interventions. It also allows more easily apply holistic treatments, that is, directed to the person as a whole.

3. Individualization of interventions

Anyone has characteristics that set it apart from the rest; therefore, adapting the interventions to each client is fundamental. The eclecticism is very useful in this sense, since the increase in the range of treatments makes it possible to better cover the different needs of the clients.

Disadvantages of eclecticism

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

1. Difficulty combining guidelines

The integration of 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 you want to generate a model properly. This difficulty is especially noticeable in theoretical eclecticism .

2. It can generate confusion

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, sometimes the integrative models offer unnecessarily complex explanations.

3. Complicates the evaluation of interventions

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


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