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What Is Collaborative Therapy?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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Collaborative therapy is a term in flux, and one for which several fairly unrelated definitions can be found. It can refer to the work of a mental health therapist in collaboration with other organizations or individuals like social services, schools, family members, medical doctors and the like. Related to this is the idea of medical therapies designed to help patients that are undertaken in a collaborative manner, such as the work a general doctor and several specialists might perform for the same patient. The last definition is one still evolving. It is the idea that therapy is about collaboration between therapist and patient.

In the first example, it is often necessary for therapists or psychiatrists to collaborate with other people in their work, particularly in family therapy, therapy for children with severe behavioral issues or if someone is undergoing mandated therapy as part of a parole agreement. Obviously, when models of cooperation between each participating member of a treating group are good ones, it can make delivery of therapy easier. The therapist can be more involved in the treatment of the patient because he/she knows more about the patient from other people or agencies participating than the patient might tell on his or her own. This extra information and an agreement to work together toward the best interest of the client/s can be a fantastic point of departure.

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A very common form of collaborative therapy may occur between therapists and psychiatrists. Many people who receive psychopharmacological treatment see someone else for therapy. Together, therapist and psychiatrist may most successfully work toward supporting the client when they communicate with each other.

Many medical therapies may be undertaken in collaboration and there are actually some doctor’s offices that offer multiple experts to help people. For instance a doctor, chiropractor, herbalist, and acupuncturist might work in the same medical practice. This could really assist the patient since any therapist or doctor within the facility has access to a patient’s records and flow of information can be excellent. Such offices may have team meetings where experts collaborate on a patient’s case to determine best medical direction to follow. This model is far less common that the ones where there is little relationship between general practitioners, those in alternative medicine, and specialist practitioners, but where it is found, it often boasts a high rate of patient satisfaction.

The other way in which collaborative therapy is defined, is as a fairly recent form of therapy that is based in part on postmodern ideas. It is particularly interested in the issue of how the therapist and client work together. One of the things it attempts to change is the power relationship in therapy by making certain that the client understands his/her position of authority or equality in the therapeutic relationship

One idea that may be discarded in this form of collaborative therapy is diagnosing or pathologizing patients. This does not mean a therapist wouldn’t recommend a trip to a psychiatrist if he/she felt that the person was suffering from a mental illness for which drug treatment is necessary. However, emphasis is placed on the client and the therapist shaping the therapy together, and on the therapist having a natural curiosity about whatever is perturbing the client, while maintaining a stance that he/she does not know how to fix the client’s problems.

Reliance on dialogue, that sometimes sounds very much like normal conversation, takes the client where he or she needs to go. This is a very different model of therapy than taking ideas to therapists to have them “analyzed” by a superior mind. Instead it posits that the conversation in therapy focused on the issues the client faces will naturally analyze whatever is needed, through the person’s own knowledge of self, which is by far superior to therapist knowledge of patient.

Collaborative therapy in this final definition can be used in a number of ways. There are counselors that offer collaborative couple’s therapy and/or offer individual treatment. The model may be employed in family or group therapy too. This is still an emerging field that began to coalesce in the late 1980s. However, some of its inspiration predates the 80s. It is difficult to determine the degree to which this therapy might be learned, taught or practiced in the future.

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