Third Wave Approach: A Summary

The field of psychology is quite vast. There are many psychotherapeutic approaches and it can be challenging to know which one is the right one for you. In this article I aim to describe some of the therapeutic approaches that I am specialized in, with the hope that this may be helpful information for you. 

To start, I am trained in traditional Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT has been extensively supported by research and is considered the “gold standard” for a wide range of psychological problems. It’s based on the ideas that 1) we sometimes learn patterns of unhelpful behaviour and 2) automatic thoughts and cognitive filters affect how we see ourselves and the world and these beliefs can in turn influence how we feel and interact with our environment. CBT includes a variety of interventions aimed at modifying one’s behaviour and thought patterns so that people can learn to cope more effectively with life’s challenges. 

Since the ‘90’s, more contemporary approaches, based on mindfulness and acceptance, have been developed and these are considered the “third wave” of CBT. Some of these are: 

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT):  This approach is based on the concept of psychological flexibility, which is comprised of six processes: acceptance, cognitive defusion, present moment awareness, self-as-context, values, and committed actions. These can also be summarized in three axes: open, aware and engaged. Essentially, ACT teaches us to be open, to connect with what matters to us, and to take steps in that direction.

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  • Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT): This approach helps people shift their relationship to their inner experience (e.g. thoughts, feelings) so that they can understand it better, while bringing a softening to their experience. Instead of relating to our inner experience with criticism, shame, or avoidance, it teaches us to develop compassion to help us courageously turn towards our difficulties and working with them. CFT is based on attachment theory, evolutionary science, and the neuroscience of emotion. It teaches us to develop greater compassion for ourselves and others.

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  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): This approach was developed to help people prevent relapses in depressive episodes. It combines concepts of cognitive therapy with mindfulness to help people develop greater awareness around negative thinking patterns and develop a new way of relating to their inner experience.

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  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): This approach was initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) but research has shown that it can be effective in helping people with other difficulties (e.g. anxiety, depression) as it teaches a variety of skills. More specifically, DBT teaches mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness skills that can be helpful for people in different contexts. Its main goals are to help people live in the moment, regulate their emotions, cope more effectively with stress, and develop healthier relationships with others.   

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  • Radically Open Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (R-O DBT): This approach was developed to help people who struggle with problems of overcontrol.Standard R-O DBT treatment includes individual psychotherapy as well as skills training classes. It focuses on radical openness and social signaling (e.g. how we express our emotions to others) to help enhance wellbeing and feelings of social connectedness.

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This is a condensed summary of different therapeutic approaches for informative purposes. Most often, people come to therapy not knowing which approach may be best for them. It is my role, as a psychologist, to use my knowledge and expertise to determine which therapeutic approach can best serve my clients. In my clinical practice, I tailor interventions based on my clients’ unique needs and goals, sometimes drawing from more than one modality.

If you’re interested in finding out if one of these approaches can help you, please book an appointment. It takes a lot of courage to make that first appointment, and yet that could be a first step in creating meaningful change.  

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