Insights & opinion

What is relational psychotherapy?

Robin Fenwick-Smith, Portobello Behavioural Health's Clinical Director, explains our approach to therapy and how relational counselling can promote healing and growth.

June 29, 2023

Our therapists are practitioners of relational psychotherapy and believe in this as a basis to build upon and incorporate other elements of therapy. Relational therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that emphasises the importance of the therapeutic relationship in promoting healing and growth. It recognises that human beings are fundamentally relational, and that our well-being is greatly influenced by the quality of our connections with others.

In relational therapy, the therapeutic relationship is considered to be a collaborative partnership between the therapist and the client.

The therapist creates a safe and supportive environment where the client feels understood, accepted, and validated.

The focus is on building a strong and trusting relationship, where the client can explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences openly.

Key principles and techniques commonly used in relational therapy include:

1. Empathy and Attunement: The therapist strives to deeply understand the client's subjective experience and to communicate empathy and attunement. This involves actively listening, reflecting, and validating the client's emotions and experiences. The therapist aims to create a non-judgmental and empathic space where the client feels seen and heard.

2. Co-creation of Meaning: Relational therapy recognises that meaning is constructed through relationships. The therapist collaborates with the client in making sense of their experiences, exploring patterns, and identifying underlying themes or beliefs that may contribute to their difficulties. This process helps clients gain insight into how their relationships and interactions with others impact their well-being.

3. Authenticity and Transparency: The therapist strives to be genuine and authentic in the therapeutic relationship. This includes being transparent about their own reactions and feelings within the therapeutic process. By modelling authenticity, the therapist encourages the client to bring their whole selves into the therapy room and to engage in genuine and open dialogue.

4. Addressing Power Dynamics: Relational therapy acknowledges the influence of power dynamics within relationships and seeks to address these dynamics in therapy. The therapist works to create a collaborative and egalitarian relationship where the power imbalance is minimised. This allows for the exploration of relational patterns and dynamics that may be contributing to the client's difficulties.

5. Repairing and Transforming Relationships: Relational therapy recognises the importance of repairing and transforming relational wounds. The therapist helps the client explore unresolved issues and past relational traumas, with the aim of promoting healing, resilience, and the development of healthier ways of relating to oneself and others.

Relational therapy is often used to treat a range of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and relationship difficulties. It can be conducted in individual, couples, or group therapy settings, depending on the specific needs and goals of the client. The therapeutic relationship is considered the foundation for growth and change, and through this relationship, clients can develop greater self-awareness, improve their relational skills, and enhance their overall well-being.

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