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I’m going to re-look at some deeply held truths  we were taught to believe about professional development in the field of psychotherapy.

Actually, if these truths are closely examined, they are perpetuated lies.

Signs That Therapists are Barking Up the Wrong Tree in Our Professional Development

Sometimes you climb the ladder to the top,
only to discover that you’ve placed it against the wrong wall.

~ Joseph Campbell

What’s worse than falsehood is a distorted truth.

This is not an attempt to put up a straw man about our field. Rather, I hope we can

a) Stop digging ourselves into a deeper hole, and

b) Get ourselves out of the entrenchment.

Before you read on, answer the following question:

Do you consider yourself a person who is open to challenging your own assumptions

If you are, read on. If not, the following list is going to cause you some discomfort.

Here it goes:

In no particular order, here are signs that we are barking up the wrong tree in our professional development:


On Learning:

1. We think that being in a state of flow means we are experiencing deep learning.

2. We equate feeling benefit from clinical supervision as actual learning.

3. We think that we can get better by engaging in deliberate practice within particular schools of psychotherapy.

4. We think PD/CEU activities (trainings, workshops, seminars) are going to get us better as a therapist.

5. We conflate learning and performing.

6. We amass content knowledge in specific areas and fail to deepen our interpersonal skills.

7. We watch master therapists in action and try to emulate them.

8. We pursue what’s new.


On Experience:

9. We fail to distinguish between clinical experience and skills acquisition and maintenance.

10. We think client feedback is going to help us better as a therapist.

11. We say that clients are our best teachers.

12. We think that once we amassed enough confidence in our practice, we get into flow states easily, and start to believe that we have arrived.


On Beliefs in Therapy:

13. We think there is a right way to do therapy.

14. We think therapy models hold some truths instead of seeing them as metaphors to guide.

15. We overvalue the idea that adhering to a model of therapy will get you better.

16. We conflate our feeling of benefit with actual client benefit.

17. We think fitting the right clinical diagnosis/ clinical formulation / treatment plan for your client matters towards the outcome.

My hopes for putting this forth is so that we can instead begin to plant seeds of transformation on fertile ground for us to grow our craft.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I will be expanding on each of these points, and why we are wasting our efforts in these.

 Love to hear your initial thoughts about this.

Stay tuned by subscribing to this list (see below).

Best Wishes, 

Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

10 Responses

  1. Nick Drury says:

    There are a few here I’m going to question Daryl.
    “3. We think that we can get better by engaging in deliberate practice within particular schools of psychotherapy.” Well I can see benefits from seeing what others are doing – but I’m not sure that rules out developing a particular school further..

    “5. We conflate learning and performing.” The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition does show that intuitive reflexes, or pattern recognition reflexes, become more prominent with mastery – I’m curious how you might be teasing these words apart – perhaps you could start with showing the role of conceptual knowledge, performance knowledge, and perceptual knowledge in the development of skills??

    “7. We watch master therapists in action and try to emulate them.” You don’t we ever learn from mimicry?

    “10. We think client feedback is going to help us better as a therapist.” I hope you are not saying its not a component – a more cautious rendering of what I think you intended was “we think client feedback, on its own, is going to help us get better as a therapist” – yes?

    All I have time for tonight …

  2. Cindy Hansen says:

    Nick, I think Daryl is deliberately being provactive to engage us in this dialogue.

    • darylchow says:

      Thanks Cindy. Actually, I have no intentions to be provocative. But you are right. I’m hoping to engage in a dialogue… and to connect with our existing collective knowledge and be willing to challenge some of our individual assumptions.

  3. Ben says:

    Coming from the trainee’s view, I’ve noticed that it helps to *start* with one school of thought. CBT especially because it’s well connected to many other EBTs.

    The structured nature of cbt provides scaffolding that trainees can use to learn the ropes. Of course, feel free to improvise afterwards but know how it’s like to create/deliver a coherent treatment plan.

  4. Eeuwe says:

    I think what Daryl might be referring to with some of these ones:
    – “3. We think that we can get better by engaging in deliberate practice within particular schools of psychotherapy.”

    Is the assumption that if we spend our time responding to feedback, practicing, and striving to improve our performance in specific fields of therapy… selling negative reinforcement cycles as a rationale for escalating anxiety, or finding exceptions to clients’ descriptions of their experience, or taking clients through a progressive relaxation exercise etc. that we become more effective over time.

    – “5. We conflate learning and performing.”
    Is the assumption that experience in doing therapy leads to improving skill in therapy over time. He might be referring to findings where for instance, chess players’ time spent playing chess is unrelated (if even slightly inversely related) to their proficiency in chess over time…

    – “We watch master therapists in action and try to emulate them.”
    Is the assumption that if I watch Marsha Lineham sitting in front of her fire and validating (level 5) a client, that I will achieve what she achieves when I validate my client just like her… at level 5, honest 🙂

  5. Jeffrey Von Glahn says:

    #13 As stated: “We think there is a right way to do therapy.” Is that wording the same as: “We think there is a best way to do therapy.”

    • darylchow says:

      Hi Jeffrey, Good to hear from you! I was referring to our beliefs that there is a right way of doing therapy, that is, if we adhere to a certain protocol. For now, I think that’s different from “best way” of doing therapy.
      I will be elaborating on each of these shortly, so that it would make more sense! Thanks again, Daryl.

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