John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

What follows is a handout for students describing how to write a paper about a psychotherapy case study.

A Psychotherapy Case Study


For this paper you will write an in-depth case study of a person who is seeking help in psychotherapy. The person you describe may be someone you know personally, someone from the movies or TV, or a completely imaginary character. The person may be a "combination" of people. If you wish, the character may be you. However, do not reveal if the character is someone you know. Take all precautions to maintain the anonymity of the person (i.e., don't use real names or any other specific information that identifies the person).

Divide your paper into the following five sections:

1. Background Information:

In this section describe the person based on the types of information a therapist would get from the person during an intake interview (ex. demographic information, historical background, their problem and symptoms, etc. READ YOUR NOTES from my class lecture on intake interviews.)

Then, for sections 2, 3, and 4
(see below) describe how that person would respond to each type of psychotherapy. Consider:

  • What is the therapy like?
  • What does the person talk about or do in that therapy?
  • Describe what the therapist is like. How does the
  • person react to that therapist?
  • Does the person benefit from that therapy? Why or why not?
For each type of therapy you must read and cite at least two original articles or book chapters pertaining to that style of therapy. Try to read two articles by the same writer. By doing so, you'll be able to get a "feel" for how that writer does therapy. Do not just talk about the therapy with your person in the abstract. Describe in concrete terms exactly what happens.

The three general categories of therapy are:

2. Psychoanalytic therapy (could be traditional or contemporary styles of psychoanalysis, or a form of psychodynamic therapy)

3. Behavioral therapy (could be behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, or a mixture of both)

4. Humanistic therapy (Rogerian, existential, gestalt, Zen, or whatever other style you like)

5. Conclusion
What type of therapy(s) were best for the person? Why? Is the person you described similar to you in any way? How? As compared to the person you described, what are your personal feelings about being in these types of therapy?

Use APA format for citing references.

An example of how the paper might look:

"In the first few sessions of psychoanalysis Jim was very anxious. Though Dr. Greenson seemed kind and empathetic, he was very quiet and made only made a few comments during each session. Greenson was following the rule of playing the "blank screen" in order to encourage Jim's projection of his internal feelings onto the therapist, which ultimately would lead to transference (Greenson, 1967, p. 23O). In the fifth session Jim became so anxious about Greenson being quiet that he got angry and confronted the doctor. Greenson interpreted this as anger Jim used to feel about his father, who rarely payed attention to him when he was young. This was an interpretation linking the 'here and now' to the 'here and then' (Greenson, 1985, p. 25).

From that point on Jim spent much time discussing his early childhood, his family, and especially his relationship with his father. He began to trust Greenson more and more, which made it easier for him to open up and reveal his inner feelings. A "working alliance" (Greenson, 1967, p. 21O) was forming. Jim described his fear of his father, who was very punitive, and how during adolescence he tried to compete with him by being a better football player than his father used to be. Many of these feelings Jim did not realize before he came to therapy. Then one night Jim had a dream ..."... etc.

* Don't be afraid to be creative in what you write. Use your imagination as freely as you like -- but also integrate important concepts about psychotherapy into your paper.

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