The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship

The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship February 24, 2015

The therapeutic relationship is the second most influential factor in predicting successful outcomes. The number one factor is the client’s willingness and readiness to seek support. Within the therapeutic relationship exists a working alliance where a client presents their concerns and behaviors to a therapist while the therapist holds the relationship safely. With this working alliance a client can learn to develop tolerance for frustration (even in this relationship), build trust, and maintain the relationship in the presence of possible ruptures.

If you have ever had the experience of bonding with someone or getting emotionally close to another via a shared personal problem or rupture in relationship, this will make sense to you. However, in a therapeutic relationship, one is learning from a professional who helps hold their emotional content and rework it though process, skill building, and what’s called an emotional corrective experience. This cannot happen if a client is not willing, ready, or does not have a good rapport with their therapist. In short, the client must generally like their therapist.

The therapeutic relationship may feel like a friendship, but it is not. It is a professional relationship, where boundaries are held by the therapist, where empathy and respect for the client are key ingredients. Where unconditional positive regard is given and the ethical standard to do no harm is honored. Where directness may come and go as needed as a client is able to feel safe enough to explore their emotional and communicative needs and work through them. Through the working alliance of the therapeutic relationship a client can meet their goals and increase their strengths or skill base.

Often a client will go to a therapist, experience a rupture and never return, quite possibly deciding therapy just isn’t for them. Sometimes this can be due to poor rapport or a client simply not teasing out multiple therapists until finding the right match for them. Sometimes it can also be an excuse and could be a missed opportunity to utilize a safe relationship, address goals, and/or build skills.

Finding the right therapist can be like choosing a favorite dish among a favorite restaurant. For example, selecting the type of food one likes or therapeutic theory one connects with; experiencing the quality of the product and service the restaurant provides similarly to the quality and service of a therapist; to finally finding that favorite dish or rightly matched therapist. Shopping therapists is a good thing! In fact it’s the way of the informed consumer.

Luckily, today we have the internet that can help make this process much easier than in the past. Many people will search for a therapist online or gain a word-of-mouth-referral from a trusted friend or family member. What could be the harm in comparison shopping, especially when considering the investment is in one’s self or a loved one? Go online and educate yourself to who or what else is out there. If cost is a factor, look for therapists who offer a sliding scale or free consultations. There are good therapists and bad therapists so meet with the therapist referred to you, ask questions about their theory, style, education, and experience.

Deciding on a theory can be overwhelming in and of itself, but remember the readiness and wiliness to seek support and the therapeutic relationship are more important when it comes to client gains. One can learn more about theories by googling specific psychotherapy theories or going to this good therapy link. Also helpful, is this article from Psychology Today How to find the best therapist for you. But above and beyond all else, ask yourself after meeting any therapist, is this person likable and do I believe I can trust them? Then meet with another to be sure.

Aaron Foster

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