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Therapeutic relationship is “the extent to which a client and therapist work collaboratively and purposefully and connect emotionally, and is conceptualized as a common, or generic, factor in that it is believed to cut across various treatment approaches” (Gellhaus -Thomas, Werner-Wilson, & Murphy 2005,p.1) .The therapeutic relationship is the bond that develops between the psychologist and client. It is a safe and close relationship based on trust that provides space to express feelings, be heard, valued, understood and enables to practice behaviours and newly acquired aptitudes. A good therapeutic relationship is a necessary and crucial factor that influences the success of the therapy. Each relationship is different but there are common characteristics and themes that build it.

What are the characteristics of the therapeutic relationship?

Genuineness

The psychologist and the client need to feel free to be themselves and genuinely relate to each other. This strengthens the relationship .A therapy session should be  a time in which social facades are not used. Genuineness can be seen in non verbal communications like keeping eye contact, nodding that matches the expressed words or emotions and even in spontaneous reactions and humor. The therapist genuineness is seen in being aware, present, involved, attentive ,responsive and expressive.

Trusting and a non-judgmental attitude

Exploring painful emotions, distressing thoughts and being vulnerable, as well as, motivated and engaging can occur if the client has trust and confidence that there is no threat of rejection , judgment and the  belief that the psychologist has his/her best interest at heart. There is a show of mutual respect.  Clients, who perceive the therapeutic relationship as trustworthy are less likely to be resistant to confront their fears and are open to exploration, new perspectives and change. There is a stronger sense of connection and dedication to the therapeutically process. Trust also nourishes hope ,positive feelings  in addition to feeling respected and valued, which  strengthens the client’s self- esteem.

Empathy and care

 Clients need to see and feel that their psychologist really hears them, values and understands their needs and intentions. Empathy enables the psychologist to do that and thus make the therapeutic environment feel warm, attentive, compassionate and caring. Empathy can be expressed non verbally and verbally by validating responses  and by  being inquisitive and asking relevant questions to better understand the client’s background and perspectives. When the client feels that s/he is the focus of attention and is being engaged in the conversation, it helps and grows a secure and trusted basis of the therapeutic relationships. It promotes analyzation,  reflection, meaning creation,insights and supports clients’ active self-healing efforts.

 Insight and experience

The therapeutic relationship is also a collaborative relationship regarding goals, purpose and tasks.It puts the client in a position of shaping their own treatment plan.  Being that therapy is interactive and each session is different than each session essentially becomes a mutual meeting of the minds, an opportunity of growth and learning for both,the clients and the psychologist. Therapy can thus be a rewarding experience for both sides.

Do you recognize these factors in your own therapeutic relationships?

Do you feel comfortable and can you talk freely with your psychologist?

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Ackerman, S., & Hilsenroth, M. (2003). A review of therapist characteristics and techniques positively impacting the therapeutic alliance. Clinical Psychology Review, 23, 1-33.

Black, S., Hardy, G., Turpin, G., & Parry, G. (2005). Self-reported attachment styles and therapeutic orientation of therapists and their relationship with reported general alliance quality and problems in therapy. Psychology & Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 78, 363-377.

Gellhaus-Thomas, S.E., Werner-Wilson, R., & Murphy, M.J. (2005). Influence of therapist and client behaviors on therapy alliance. Contemporary Family Therapy, 27,1,19-35.

Lambert, M., J. & Barley, D. E., (2001). Research Summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy, 38, 4, 357-361.

Martin, D., Garske, J., &Davis, M. (2000). Relation of the therapeutic alliance with other outcome and other variables: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 438-450.

Schnellbacher, J., & Leijssen, M. (2009). The significance of therapist genuineness from the client’s perspective. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 49,2,207-228.

Sharpley, C.F., Jeffrey, A.M., & Mcmah, T. (2006). Counsellor facial expression and client-perceived rapport. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19,4, 343-356.

Sullivan, M., Skovholt, T., & Jennings, L. (2005). Master therapists’ construction of the therapy relationship. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 27, 48-70.

 

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