The 4 Types Of Contextual Therapy: What They Are And What They Are Based On

Throughout the history of psychology, therapies have evolved from a predominantly philosophical perspective to a much more empirical approach, thus developing behavioral therapies (first generation therapies) or cognitive-behavioral therapies (second generation).

However, this trend is going down; Contextual therapies, or third generation therapies, are increasingly common in clinical practice. The different types of contextual therapy are based on the philosophical current of Functional Contextualism, whose basis is based on the results of laboratory research; and has applications in any area of ​​human life.

What is Contextual Therapy?

As already noted, contextual therapies get their name from Functional Contextualism. From this perspective, the person and their behavior are studied within their context and not in isolation.

Besides, These therapies give special importance to the patient’s verbal behavior and the values ​​that he or she possesses That is, what the patient says to himself and others directly influences his behavior and his daily functioning.

Types of Contextual Therapy

Although they are not the only ones, there are four models of contextual therapies that stand out from the rest. But all with a common objective: to alleviate the patient’s pain through the development of much more effective, extensive and elastic behavioral patterns.

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness has already become a reference therapy within contextual models. Although there is no specific word to refer to Mindfulness, the most accurate translation would be Full Attention or Full Consciousness, among others.

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Although as a general rule, we think that we are in control of our attention and our thoughts, the reality is that we are constantly attending to intrusive thoughts about the past or the future, or registering only a small part of what is happening to us in the present. .

This practice allows you to explore what is happening while it is happening Accepting the experience as it is, whether it is positive or negative and accepting that it is part of our journey through life. This avoids the suffering caused by trying to make that unpleasant thing disappear.

Although Mindfulness is linked to many aspects of more traditional psychology, such as exposure and self-regulation, it offers a degree of innovation within its own technique:

Focus on the present moment

It is about the patient focusing their attention and feeling things as they happen, without exercising any type of control over them. The benefit of this technique lies in the possibility of experiencing a moment completely.

radical acceptance

Unlike the usual procedure in psychology, radical acceptance aims for the patient to focus on their experiences without making any type of evaluation and accepting themselves as natural.

Choice of experiences

Although it seems that mindfulness preaches living personal experiences passively, this is not the case. People actively choose which life goals and experiences to engage in.


The acceptance of our experiences implies a renunciation of direct control of these The aim is for the person to experience their feelings and emotions as they happen. It is not about controlling discomfort, fear, sadness, etc., but about experiencing them as such. This point opposes traditional psychology procedures that seek to eliminate negative thoughts or control anxiety.

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These techniques allow the person to learn to relate directly to everything that is happening in their life at the present moment, becoming aware of their reality and consciously working on the challenges that life poses, such as stress, pain, the disease, etc.

2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on learning psychosocial skills This combines several cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotional regulation with some of the typical concepts of contextual therapies, such as acceptance and fullness of consciousness or tolerance to distress and stressful events.

In DBT the professional accepts and validates the patient’s feelings. But, at the same time, he makes him aware that some of these feelings he experiences are maladaptive. Next, the therapist points out to the patient alternative behaviors that will lead to more pleasant feelings.

It is a reference therapy in the treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD), as well as in patients who present symptoms and behaviors typical of mood disorders.

3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a type of intervention that uses acceptance, understood as the ability to pay attention to sensations, thoughts, feelings, etc., together with the commitment to carry out actions consistent with personal values.

ACT is based on the theory that psychological problems are based on language, making inevitable thoughts and sensations that may be experienced as annoying. Through techniques such as metaphors, paradoxes and experimental exercises, the patient learns to connect with these thoughts or sensations, recontextualizing them and giving light to what really matters to them in their life. In order to do so, acquire the commitment to the necessary changes that must be carried out.

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In addition, acceptance and commitment therapy is linked to strategies to improve psychological flexibility, that is, the person’s ability to be present and adapt to the situations that arise; thus avoiding the psychological suffering produced by constantly avoiding contact with negative thoughts, emotions or memories.

4. Functional analytical psychotherapy (FAP)

In addition to being considered a contextual or third generation therapy, it is also part of the movement called Clinical Behavior Analysis. What differentiates it from the rest of the therapies of this wave is the use of the therapeutic relationship as a way to promote change in the patient’s behavior.

This therapy uses what the patient does and says during the therapeutic session, or what is called clinically relevant behaviors. These behaviors include thoughts, perceptions, feelings, etc., which must be ensured that they occur within the treatment session in order to work with them.

Another category is the improvements in behavior that occur during such sessions and that must be reinforced by the therapist. The objective of this type of therapy is to get the patient to make interpretations of their own behavior and the causes of it from the analytical-functional perspective.

To do this, the therapist uses five strategies: