Relational Depth in Counselling
“People are essentially trustworthy, can self-direct their growth, have the ability to understand the issues that plague their lives and find the appropriate solutions.” Carl Rogers, a prominent psychologist in his day, was the main proponent of the sentiment expressed in this statement. However, Rogers reiterated that the ideal environment must exist and be conducive for clients to tap into their ‘actualising tendency.’
According to Rogers, the relationship between the client and the therapist, along with the right conditions, are the main determinants for achieving therapeutic progress. Relational depth must exist for the client to heal. This has been supported by research, including a study conducted by the American Psychological Association 12 years ago. Their research provided empirical evidence of the positive correlation between the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcomes (Steering Committee, 2002:441)
Rogers Perspective of Relational Depth
Rogers said, “If I can develop a particular relationship with my client, he will find within himself the capability to tap into the relationship and achieve self-mastery, change, and growth. Personal development will be the result for my client.” Like Rogers, many person-centered therapists believe that the only way significant progression in personality change can occur is in the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, the quality of the relationship is of fundamental importance for the client. Relational depth is paramount to a client being able to heal.
The following six conditions of the client-therapist relationship must be present for creating relational depth, thus, creating the psychological environment to encourage positive change in the client’s personality.
(1) The psychological contract includes two persons.
(2) One of the persons (the client) is experiencing incongruence.
(3) The client receives unconditional positive regard and acceptance from the therapist.
(4) The client receives empathic understanding of his or her internal frame of reference from the therapist.
(5) The therapist is able to communicate this empathic understanding accurately to the client.
(6) The therapist is genuine and experiences congruence throughout the relationship.
David Cain, another prominent psychologist, indicated that emotionally focused empathy and connectedness assists clients in the following ways:
(i) They see old experiences in a new light;
(ii) Their worldview and self-perception changes;
(iii) Clients’ confidence in their decision-making is improved.
Dave Mearns Perspective of Relational Depth
David Mearns has researched and written much on person-centered therapy and has to some extent subscribed to some shifting views that are different to Rogers concepts. Mearns goes beyond the quality of the relationship and places as much focus on ‘specific moments of encounter,’ in order to achieve relational depth between the client and therapist. “We define ourselves through relationships,” says Mearns. He further states that clients are significantly influenced by relationships. According to Mearns, it is the encounters between the client and the therapist – more so than the six conditions – that are key to the healing process.
For any counsellors or psychotherapists reading this, what is your experience of relational depth and how it can be achieved?