The Top 10
The Most Influential Therapists of the Past Quarter-Century
By Carl Rogers, Salvador Minuchin, Virginia Satir, Murray Bowen, and John Gottman
Twenty five years ago, in 1982, the first issue of the Psychotherapy Networker was published. That same year, American Psychologist surveyed 800 members of the American Psychological Association to learn which theoretical clinical orientations they followed and which psychotherapists they believed to be the most influential in the field.
On the 25th anniversary of this magazine, it seemed appropriate to revisit these questions, take stock of our profession, and get a sense of how therapy has developed and changed over the years. So, we partnered with Dr. Joan Cook at Columbia University and her research project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to find out ourselves, posing the question, "Over the last 25 years, which figures have most influenced your practice?" Respondents could list up to 10 different sources of influence if they wished. We also asked recipients for information about their own approach to treatment—what model or combination of models they used. We received 2,598 responses—a far larger number than the 422 returns in the 1982 survey.
Perhaps the most surprising single finding was that in both the 1982 and the 2006 survey the single most influential psychotherapist—by a landslide—was Carl Rogers. In other words, the therapist who became famous for his leisurely, nondirective, open-ended, soft-focus form of therapy 50 years ago remains a major role model today, even with the explosion of brief, "evidence-based" clinical models, a psychopharmacological revolution that often makes medications the intervention du jour, and a radically altered system of insurance reimbursement that simply won't pay for the kind of therapy Rogers did. He and the remaining figures voted by the survey respondents to be among the top 10 most influential therapists of the last quarter-century are recognized in the pages that follow.
Who are the people responding to the survey? They are most likely female (75.9 percent of respondents), white (90.5 percent), middle-aged (the mean age was 50.79 years), and either social workers (34.7 percent), professional counselors (21.1 percent), or psychologists (16.6 percent). A few called themselves drug/alcohol counselors (1.3 percent) or "other," including clergy member, school counselor, and "psychotherapists" not further defined (8.2 percent). A vanishingly small sprinkling of professional groupings make up the remaining 2+ percent.
The majority of survey participants graduated between 1990 and 2006, though a significant number received their most advanced degrees between 1970 and 1989. A surprisingly large percentage—41.4 percent—are relative novices, having practiced for from 0 to 10 years (suggesting, given their mean age, that, for many, therapy is a second career, or else that the kids have at last moved out). A little more than 30 percent have practiced between 11 and 20 years, 21.2 percent between 31 and 40 years, and the rest (8.3 percent) are real old-timers, having been therapists for between 40 and 54 years. How do our clinicians identify themselves? What kind of therapy do they actually practice? As with the therapists who influenced them, respondents could mention a range of different orientations that comprised their approach. Perhaps the most important finding is how eclectic most therapists are. Of 2,281 completed and valid surveys (not all of the 2,598 responses contained enough information to determine clinical approach), only about 95 respondents (4.2 percent) were purists of one sort or another, meaning that they described themselves as using one model virtually exclusively. The rest—95.8 percent—admitted to combining a variety of approaches.
Even though Rogers was named the most influential therapist, the most popular therapeutic approach—what most people in our survey really do at least...
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