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Psych/Writing Q&A: Therapy in the 1960s

Want to use psychology to give your story authenticity? I'm going to start answering reader psychology/writing questions on the blog. If you have a question, feel free to send it to me using the Q&A form on

Disclaimer: The information on this site is provided as general educational information to readers and should be not be understood as specific advice for any particular individual(s). People who are seeking help for "real-life" problems are advised to consult a local mental health professional.

My protagonist is in therapy with a psychiatrist in 1961. I'd like to know more about how therapy was performed in that time period. Perhaps you could give me some references for research.

Honestly, therapy was done similarly to how it is today. Thethree major "forces" of psychology, around which most other theories were developed, were in place by the 1950s. (The three major forces are psychoanalysis [which became the broader "psychodynamic therapy" in the 20s and beyond], behaviorism [which became cognitive-behaviorism in the 50s and 60s], and humanism).

Some of the best training videos for psychologists and psychiatrists come from decades past, and I looked on youtube and found some, so you can see for yourself how a therapist might have behaved. The one thing I will point out that everyone seemed to do in therapy until the late 70s is smoke! Today some therapists discourage even water bottles, because smoking, or something to drink, or whatever, can provide a way to stall and avoid answering or dealing with whatever is on the proverbial table.

Okay, onto the videos. I know these are going to seem excruciatingly old, but they really are the best videos of how to do these kinds of therapy. My all-time favorites are the ones of Gloria, who tries therapy with three different types of therapists

Carl Rogers (a humanist) -- is very non-directive and often answers a question with a question --

Albert Ellis (a cognitive-behaviorist) -- is extremely directive, even bossy, and sort of talks over her head --

Fritz Perls (Gestalt therapy, which is a form of therapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and staying in the "here and now" rather than thinking about the past) -- insists she say in the present and be aware of the messages she's sending --

At the end, Gloria says she likes Perls' approach the best. However, Ellis's ideas work really well, especially with depression and anxiety, and Rogers' warmth became key to all approaches to therapy.

If I were you, I would pick whichever of these three approaches would fit your needs best and model the therapy after it. 


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