A Dynamic Systems Approach to Psychotherapy: A Meta-theoretical Framework for Explaining Psychotherapy Change Processes

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Abstract

Notwithstanding the many methodological advances made in the field of psychotherapy research, at present a metatheoretical, school-independent framework to explain psychotherapy change processes taking into account their dynamic and complex nature is still lacking. Over the last years, several authors have suggested that a dynamic systems (DS) approach might provide such a framework. In the present paper, we review the main characteristics of a DS approach to psychotherapy. After an overview of the general principles of the DS approach, we describe the extent to which psychotherapy can be considered as a self-organizing open complex system, whose developmental change processes are described in terms of a dialectic dynamics between stability and change over time. Empirical evidence in support of this conceptualization is provided and discussed. Finally, we propose a research design strategy for the empirical investigation of psychotherapy from a DS approach, together with a research case example. We conclude that a DS approach may provide a metatheoretical, school-independent framework allowing us to constructively rethink and enhance the way we conceptualize and empirically investigate psychotherapy.

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