Saturday, April 6, 2013

Brief Overview of Compass Therapy: Dr. Dan Montgomery

My fifteen years of collaboration with Everett Shostrom, a Stanford research psychologist and psychotherapist who carried out pioneering work in the field of counseling, planted the roots for Compass Therapy in what we at that time called Actualizing Therapy. Our approach combined a health model of personality with an explanatory system of psychopathology. We suggested that actualizing growth fosters maturity, flexibility, and purpose in life, and constitutes a reasonable goal of therapy. Further, that therapeutic gain always involves the integration of polar opposites within the personality and an acceptance of individual differences in relationships.

Historically, Dr. Shostrom had produced the “Gloria” films during which Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis each worked in hour-long sessions with a counselee named Gloria. These films demonstrated the usefulness of showing exactly what happens in counseling sessions so that others can replicate beneficial techniques. Some years later Shostrom and I produced a second film series that featured Arnold Lazarus (Multimodal Therapy), Carl Rogers (Client-Centered Therapy), and Everett Shostrom (Actualizing Therapy) each working with a counselee named Cathy.

In the decades followed I continued this eclectic theory building by developing Compass Therapy, an approach that links together the Self Compass model of personality with operational definitions of psychopathology found in the universal standard for mental health professionals: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The use of compass-like diagrams made a user-friendly graphical interface that not only highlighted the principles of Compass Therapy, but also allowed counselees to readily understand how to participate more fully in their own transformation.


Though Compass Therapy has distinctions of its own, I was careful to construct an open-ended conversation with other major counseling theories. This partnering philosophy makes Compass Therapy a co-proponent of some of the most reliable therapeutic principles found in Psychoanalysis, Jungian Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Family Therapy, Existential Psychotherapy, Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Positive Psychology. Perhaps this accounts for why Raymond Corsini, considered by many as the dean of American counseling and psychotherapy, has described my Compass Therapy approach as a “supersystem” that represents “the therapeutic system of the future.”

What has differentiated Compass Therapy from other theories is the idea that human nature and personality are comprised of dynamic opposites that need integration around the core self, and that action techniques are often required to move people forward in therapeutic progress. Like the alternating AC/DC current that powers an electric appliance, polar opposites in human beings create aliveness and health. For instance, healthy individuals find rhythms between solitude and sociability, activity and passivity, involvement and detachment, and work and play.

It’s when the dynamic movement between polarities breaks down and you get an extended flat line of stasis that people become sick, depressed, or devitalized. Dynamic movement fueled by the rhythmic swings of polar opposites expresses itself in mental health as well. Healthy individuals are spontaneous and flexible precisely because they are alive with new possibilities and passionate about the pursuit of creativity. If something doesn’t work, they try something else. If they are frustrated in fulfilling a goal, they explore novel options. They resist becoming stuck in a one-dimensional life.

Psychopathology, however, works differently. Rigidity replaces rhythm. Resourcefulness succumbs to sameness. Relationships perpetuate superficial actions and reactions. Life grows dull. Symptoms set in. The personality and human nature become frozen in intractable patterns that resist change and growth. Actually, the whole range of psychopathological alternatives to healthy living have a strangely attractive appeal, for they seem to make life safe, to make life predictable, and make life familiar.

The Compass Model
Healthy individuals can be loving or assertive, and weak or strong, as a situation requires. Rigid individuals are stuck in chronic behavior patterns that are too loving, too aggressive, too weak, or too strong. If healthy living lets you play the eighty-eight keys of the piano with both hands, then psychopathology makes you play only “Chopsticks” with two fingers.

Compass Therapy's Self Compass as well as the Human Nature Compass offer crucial dimensions for growth of personality and human nature that give a person all eight-eight keys, and unlimited capacity for composing the creative melodies and harmonies required for successful coping.

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