The Eclectic Approach

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The Eclectic Approach

This approach is a way of overcoming the multipicity of approaches and theories.

It is a 'pick and mix' way to help understand behaviour, and is mostly applied in psychological therapy. Each approach gives what the eclectic needs out of their approach. More complex behaviours have more 'give ins,' for example schizophrenia. 

An example you may have studied is that of depression. It was found that when given antidepressants, these do not 'solve' the problem or have long term benefits. Therefore, CBT is usually also used. This is a combination of Biological and Cognitive approaches, and an example of the eclectic approach.

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Different forms...

The approach can take different forms:

1) the combination of different theoretical IDEAS and APPROACHES; 'theoretical eclecticism.'

2) the combination of different RESEARCH METHODS; 'methodological eclecticism.'

3) the combination of different positions in the debates in psychology (Eg, nature and nurture); 'Epistemological eclecticism'

4) the use of combination of approaches in applied psychology (eg, drugs and CBT to treat depression); 'applied eclecticism.'

5) The use of different ideas alone or together in different situations, eg, explaining depression with biological ideas, but using psychodynamic and cognitive theories to exaplin anorexia; 'selective eclectism.'

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Stevens (1996) trimodal theory

Primary focus - biological processes (genes/hormones) - Biological approach

Secondary focus - symbolic processes (meaning and learning) - Beh/SLT/Cog/psych approaches

Teriary focus - reflexive awareness (ability to think of behaviour/change) - humanistic approach.

Utilised in an explanation of gender: 

Primary focus - genetic sex of individual, XY/**, hormones

Secondary focus - meaning and learning of gender in society (eg, socialisation)

Tertiary mode - individual has a choice whether or not to perform the appropriate gender behaviour

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Evaluation of the Eclectic approach


  • not clear how different approaches are combined in practise
  • It may mean there is no theoretical base to psychology. Scientific psychology, emhasises the importance of underlying theory when explaing behaviour and to drive applications
  • There are irreconcilable differences; some appraoches are directly contradictory and can't be combined.
  • A pick and mix approach can water down a version that is no better than common sense
  • Difficult to know when to combine approaches or use one approach in one situation and another in another situation


  • Human behaviour is too complex and varied to be completley explained by one approach
  • Approaches develop and build on one another, so there is plenty of overlap between them
  • In therapy, the approach most appropriate to a particular problem is used becuase what matters most is helping the client
  • Being eclectic may also involve being multi-diciplinary and lookin to subjects other than psychology for more info to explain behaviour
  • Individual approaches can be insular and only interested in their own debates.
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The way forward

The BPS, in 2005, encouraged psychologists from different divisions to come together, and a mutual sense of respect was formed, agreeing to work together in psychology. 

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Similarities and Differences Between Approaches

  • Biological - human characteristics and behaviour determined by genetic inheritence. Physiological determinim of human behaviour. LIKE psychoanalytic in terms of instincts.
  • Behaviourist - sees people as machines responding to reinforcement or punishments in environment. Little free will. NO similarities with radical behaviourism, but links to cognitive and SLT theories
  • SLT - behaviour takes place in a social context and is learned from observing how others behave. LIKE behaviourist and cognitive
  • Cognitive - People as conscious logical thinkers with memory as defining human characteristic. LIKE psychoanalysis at a conscious level and behaviourists and SLT.
  • Psychodynamic - Negative conflict, people at mercy of instincts, unconscious and childhood repressions. LIKE bio and behaviourist approaches.
  • Humanism - positive image where a person growns and realises potential. Freedom to act and choose. LIKE none really, but some elements of cognitive.
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  • Focuses on learning of behaviour (SLT/ beh)
  • Uses scientific methods (beh/bio)
  • Listens to individual describing their experiences (hum/psych)
  • Stresses importance of cognitive processes (cog/SLT)
  • Studies animals to understand human behaviour (Bio/beh)
  • Treats mental illness, eg drugs and CBT (bio/cog)
  • Regards application of ideas to helping people as most important (humanistic/psychod)


  • Individuals can choose their behaviour (hum) vs can't (bio/beh/psychod)
  • Scientific research methods (bio/beh) vs non-scientific (hum/psychod)
  • Biology (bio) vs learning (beh) as course of behaviour
  • Study subjective experience (hum) vs observable behaviour (beh)
  • Importance of theory (bio/beh) vs application (hum/psychod)
  • Different types of determinism, eg, physiological, genetic (bio) vs unconscious (psych)
  • Position in debates, eg nature (bio) vs nurture (beh)
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  • Biological - behaviour has biological basis - mainly uses experiments, physiological measures (EEG), genetic studies - applied to bio psych, genetic basis of mental illness
  • Behaviourist - behaviour learnt from conditioning/past experiences - mainly uses experiments, particularly with non humans - applied to behaviour therapy/modification/stress managment
  • SLT - behaviour learnt from observing others and reinforcement when copied - mainly uses experiments - applied to aggressive behaviour, mood behaviour and gender development
  • Cognitive - explores how individuals make sense of their world and how this influences their behaviour - uses experiments, computer modelling, questionnaires - applied to cognitive psychology, social cognition, CBT
  • Psychodynamic - Early experiences and unconscious processes cause behaviour - mainly use case studies - can be applied to psychoanalysis, gender development and personality development
  • Humanistic - individuals free to choose their behaviour - uses questionnaires, unstructured interviews mainly - can be applied to CCT (client centred therapy), motivational workshops
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