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Article by Anna Keyter
Factors that promote or hinder the therapeutic relationship | Online Therapist:
There are endless factors that could affect the therapeutic relationship. Hill (2014) stresses the importance of understanding one’s own motives for becoming a counsellor and monitoring them. Personal therapy contributes to a counsellor’s own growth and self-understanding which is an important aspect when assisting clients. For instance, issues that a client may raise may stir up helper personal issues. The therapist needs to be able to bracket uncomfortable reactions and attend to the client’s issues in order to promote constructive therapeutic interactions. Furthermore, counsellor and client variables should be considered, these include personalities, belief systems and demographics that could affect the helping relationship. Sometimes people get along, and other times it is a mismatch. As a therapist, it is crucial to understanding your own biases, assumptions and worldview to be open to the norms, values and cultural heritage of helpees (Sue & Sue, 2007).
A helper’s intentions are based on everything s/he knows about the client at a particular moment. These motives are not always apparent to the counsellor or client at the time because they discover different layers of feelings, thoughts and emotions as they go on (Hill, 2014). Cozolino (2004) stresses the importance of focusing on exploring the client’s experiences in the moment. If the counsellor is not with the client moment-by-moment, s/he won’t be able to formulate intentions based on the current situation (Hill, 2014). Therapists should be present to assess the client’s information and decide on specific skills.
Clients react by reevaluating their needs, goals and decisions based on the counsellor’s intervention. Brew and Kottler (2016) are of the opinion that clients believe counsellors have the power to assist them but first, it is important to gain confidence in their counselling skills. That being said, Cozolino ( 2004) highlights the importance of being good enough as a therapist. He states that even though environments are not perfect, it could still be adequate when there exists a good therapeutic relationship. The information gained from the client should be based on the therapist’s skills. These skills include reflecting on feelings, facilitating self-disclosure and asking open-ended questions. A professional attitude and having the right manner when probing is also conducive to the intervention process (Hill, 2014).
Self-understanding contributes to a counsellor’s ability to listen to the thoughts and feelings of their clients in a nonjudgmental way (Rogers, 1961). A professional therapeutic relationship is all about listening empathically and supporting clients through difficult times. Counsellors facilitate a different perspective on problems and assist clients to take action to improve their lives (Hill, 2014). In order to help clients make sense of ambiguity and confusing stimuli, therapists assist in defining goals. Helpers further assess and reevaluate the client’s goals as a reaction to interventions. The helping relationship is thus an interaction between the helper’s intentions and the client’s reactions. A counsellor’s own awareness guides the selection of effective interventions. By paying attention to the client’s feelings the therapist can develop an appropriate treatment plan.
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Brew, L. & Kottler, J.A. (2016). Applied Helping Skills: Transforming Lives (2nd ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
Cozolino, L. (2004). The making of a therapist. New York, USA: W.W. Norton & Company.
Hill, C. E. (2014). Helping skills: Facilitating exploration, insight, and action (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.
Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person. London, United Kingdom: Constable Publishers. Available online library (2004 ed)