The Therapeutic Relationship (from the perspective of Person Centred Counselling)
Relationship, with our self and with others, is at the heart of who we are and what we do. Relationship is also something that many people struggle with e.g. relationship conflicts, inadequate relationships and the absence of relationship. The therapeutic relationship (the interaction between client and therapist) provides an opportunity for the client to experience and explore relationship, to learn to engage with someone in a more real and intimate way and subsequently learn how better to relate with others and deal with relationship conflicts.
The development of the therapist/client relationship in personal centred counselling is contributed to by three factors (the core conditions) i.e.:
Congruence: the ability of the therapist to be real in the therapeutic relationship, which includes being willing to make her thoughts and feelings available in an appropriate and sensitive manner. Congruence is essential in order to provide the foundation upon which trust can develop.
Empathy: in empathising with the client the therapist attempts to look at things from the client’s perspective leading the therapist to appreciate how the client is experiencing a particular event.
Unconditional Positive Regard: an attitude of acceptance towards the client by the therapist no matter who the client is or what s/he brings into the room.
Trust and Safety
With each of these core conditions present, there is the potential for a real and honest relationship to develop. As it develops, trust beings to grow between client and therapist, which subsequently leads to the client feeling safe in the relationship. Feeling safe in the relationship is important for the client for the following reason – exploring ourselves at depth, reaching into those areas of ourselves where we have never before dared reach, exposing our vulnerabilities and uncertainties and experiencing raw emotion can be frightening, not least as we fear losing control or being overwhelmed; therefore it is essential that the client feels safe as s/he embarks on this journey of exploration.
The concept of being accepted for who we are is an important factor in the client/therapist relationship. In a society in which we find ourselves playing roles and wearing masks – in our homes, our families and our workplaces, the therapeutic relationship provides a space in which we can begin to remove our masks, break down our façades and discover who we really are without fear of judgement or condemnation. It is a space in which our longing to rediscover ourselves and our needs, and to regain a trust and confidence in our own thoughts and feelings is acknowledged and valued.
In considering the work between therapist and client it is important to recognise that the emphasis on the relationship can initially be daunting for a client. For example, if in relationship with others the client has only ever experienced people hiding behind pretences, the ability and willingness of the therapist to be real and honest in her reactions and expressions can be unnerving. However, as the therapist continues to be real in the relationship and as trust develops, the client will begin to feel more comfortable with this way of relating and engage with it.
This encounter between client and therapist provides a foundation from which healing can take place e.g. the healing of damaged relationships, of broken trust, of wounded self-worth and of shattered confidence, by offering the client the opportunity to experience relationship in a new way, to learn from it and to bring that learning to bear on his/her own relationships.
Sonia Gyles, BSc. (Hons.) Counselling & Psychotherapy
126 Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel. No. 086 449 1761