Early in my professional years, I was asking the question: How can I cure or change this person. Now, I would phrase the question this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for personal growth.
-Carl Rogers, PhD. (Psychologist)
The therapeutic relationship is one of the most sacred relationships of all. It can involve a mental health therapist of some kind and a client seeking mental health services. The therapist and client are not friends, and, in many ways, the relationship is one-sided (i.e., the client shares intimate details about their own lives while the therapist shares very little about themselves). Still, there is a closeness between the two. Theoretically, the client becomes vulnerable in the therapy room, bringing with them their darkest secrets, their most difficult struggles, and their need for healing and guidance. The therapist can feel protective of their client and often expresses concern and hope for them.
Many people wonder how therapy works and what makes for lasting, successful outcomes. The mental health field can often debate the answers to these questions. Much research has been shared examining therapy techniques and other factors that make for successful therapy results. In many cases, particularly with those clients who have endured significant trauma or who have been continually invalidated, the therapeutic relationship itself can become the main curative factor. There are solid reasons why.
The therapist not only provides an objective, educated point of view, bringing with them various modalities of therapy, but the actual therapeutic relationship alone can provide the following:
Anecdotally, it was a therapeutic relationship that saved this writer’s life not so long ago. My psychologist and I cultivated a relationship of trust, safety, and healing after my military journey. This was important for my growth because I had not experienced a completely healthy relationship prior, and the complex trauma I endured throughout my life altered my healthy development. During our work together, I never really understood what was happening in session. It felt like some sort of wizardry. I just knew that over time, I felt safer and more empowered. I became more grounded and in control of myself. I then earned my doctorate in psychology, and I finally understood the main factor that so strongly impacted my mental health (and consequently my physical health, too). It was the unique and sacred therapeutic relationship that made room for change.
Rapport leads to the alliance that leads to an effective therapeutic relationship. Research supports that the therapeutic relationship makes up 30% of the four factors creating lasting and positive therapeutic outcomes for clients while the therapist’s technique or model makes up only 15 percent. (Client factors make up 40% and expectations make up 15 percent: Asay & Lambert, 1999; Duncan & Miller, 2000). It is what I respect and admire most about therapists (i.e., ones who can cultivate healing and empowering therapeutic relationships from which clients can grow and transform their lives). It is why I call these therapists “Wizards.”
Asay, T.P., & Lambert, M.J. (1999). The empirical case for the common factors in therapy: Quantitative findings. In
M.A. Hubble, B.L. Duncan, & S.D. Miller (Eds.), The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy (pp. 23-55). American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/11132-001
Duncan, B. L., & Miller, S. D. (2000). The heroic client: Doing client-directed, outcome-informed therapy. San
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