Training in the Pluralistic Approach

Mick Cooper, University of Roehampton

One of the questions that I’m asked on a fairly regular basis is how you should go about training in a pluralistic approach, and whether it’s possible if you’ve already got a first training in another modality and don’t want to re-train.

Julia McLeod and colleagues wrote about pluralistic training in the Handbook of pluralistic counselling and psychotherapy (Sage, 2016), and it’s also something that John McLeod and I covered in Chapter 8 of our original 2011 book.

My personal view (and others in the pluralistic field may disagree) goes something like this.

I think it’s great if you can undertake a first counselling, psychotherapy, or counselling psychology training which is informed by pluralistic thinking and values. There’s a number of them about now, for instance:

A pluralistic training doesn’t just introduce you to a range of different ideas and methods. Most importantly, it helps you to develop the values and skills to bring these together into a coherent whole, in collaboration with your clients.

But if you’ve trained in other approaches (and many of us, including myself, have) that doesn’t mean you can’t think and practice pluralistically.

More than anything else, for me, pluralism is an attitude towards therapy. It’s a belief that there’s lots of different ways of helping clients, and that, if we want to know the best way forward with our clients, we should talk to them about it. So that’s a standpoint that any therapist can hold: even if we’re trained in just one ‘pure form’ approach. It doesn’t mean we can do everything, but it does mean we can value the many different pathways towards change, and talk to our clients about whether or not our own approach is right for them.

And it gives us something really solid to build on. So CPD training is a great way forward, as we start to develop other skills and understandings in our therapeutic work. Of course, a one day CPD event may not be enough to skill us up in a particular approach, but with time and patience we can begin to broaden the array of methods and understandings we can offer. And then there’s reading, research, watching videos of practice, online learning, our own personal therapy… many different ways in which we can continue to build up our skills and knowledge to be able to offer our clients more of what they might want and need.

The great thing about the pluralistic approach is that it’s never all-or-nothing, and there’s no great emphasis on being able to say, ‘Right, now I am a pluralistic therapist.’ It’s something fluid, emerging, intermingling with other thoughts and practices. It’s an attitude of valuing, appreciation, and openness. So if you want to say that you’re ‘collaborative integrative’, or ‘person-centred with some pluralistic elements’, or ‘pluralistic/CBT-ish/third wave-y’ it’s totally fine–if it makes sense to you and your clients. There’s no ‘pluralistic police’ who are going to come and tell you what you’re allowed to say. And maybe, over time, we’ll all learn more about what it means to think, practice, and develop as a pluralistic therapist. So do post your experiences after this blog: would love to know more about what others think and have experienced.