Couch Conversations: What is the Therapeutic Relationship and Why is it Important?
At Couch Conversations Psychotherapy and Counseling, we believe that the therapeutic relationship is an integral part of the client’s journey in therapy. Change can occur in many different ways, but having a trusting relationship with your therapist can truly impact the progress that you make. This relationship could promote the growth you are looking for in yourself, in your relationships, and in your life. That is why we believe having the “right fit” with a therapist can promote the positive changes you are seeking from therapy.
What is the Therapeutic Relationship?
The relationship we are talking about between therapist and client is a professional, working relationship that occurs in a therapeutic capacity. In other words, your relationship with your therapist is not continued outside of the therapy sessions, but only within the context of the working relationship when both a therapist and client decide to engage in therapeutic services together. Within that therapeutic relationship capacity, it is important that both the therapist and client feel that there is a strong and positive connection.
Just like many relationships in life, the connection you have with other people can be explained in words (i.e., we are committed, our relationship is strong, this relationship is healthy, etc.), or it can be more of a feeling (i.e., I feel connected to this person, I feel trustful of this person). These ideas apply with your therapist as well. You might have certain beliefs about how your therapist perceives you and your situation as well as the feelings you have in your therapeutic relationship with them.
Most people in therapy are usually not thinking that they are in a "therapeutic relationship" with their therapist. But it is true that you have essentially entered a relationship that is created from a space of honesty and trust and without judgment. This means that your authenticity with your therapist about certain past and current behaviors will facilitate a trusting relationship and it will also allow you to practice being truthful in your other relationships with others.
Let’s Talk About Relationships
If you think about it, you have many different types of relationships in your life. From your coworkers, supervisors, spouses, friends, family, children, and other working relationships such as the relationship with your barista at your favorite coffee shop, or the cashier at your local grocery store, or even your primary care doctor. There is a certain level of interaction that you have with each of these individuals, which defines each of these relationships as distinct and unique from one another. Your relationship with your barista is likely very different than your relationship with your spouse. The same concept applies to your relationship with your therapist.
But the ironic thing is that you are more likely to reveal your deepest and most vulnerable emotions to your therapist than you might to others in your life. That is why a positive therapeutic relationship is important because you may not be able to disclose that type of information to your therapist if you do not have a sustainable relationship with them.
I’m Getting It. But How Do I Know it’s the “Right Fit”?
There are many different types of people that you meet in life and have relationships with. In some cases, you may have an instant connection with someone and feel comfortable right away. In other instances, you may need more time to build that connection and put time and energy into fostering those relationships.
But even after all of these considerations, you may not always have the best fit with the first therapist you meet. In fact, you may need to meet with several different therapists and see who you have the best connection with. And while some people might think that is a little unusual, it really isn’t. Would you be interested in marrying the first person you ever meet for a date? In some cases, yes, but in most cases, no. Without meeting different people and having different experiences from people, you may not know what you need in a relationship and being able to communicate that is so important.
How Things Play Out in the Sessions with your Therapist: If you have a good connection with your therapist, you likely will not giving your therapeutic relationship a second thought. You are probably leaving your sessions feeling as though your therapist really understands you, gets you and is helping you on your journey toward healing and becoming the best version of yourself.
But you may not always have this type of connection and at times, you may be needing something else from your therapist that you cannot really put your finger on. You may be needing nurturance and support from your therapeutic relationship. The problem is you may not know that or how to communicate that with your therapist if you are not being mindful of the relationship. Your therapist might be assigning you homework assignments and you don’t know how to tell him or her that the assignments feel too overwhelming right now with your symptoms of depression on top of a busy work schedule and taking classes part time.
What Ends Up Happening: If you’re not feeling the positive connection between you and your therapist, you walk away from therapy and give up on it like it is a lost cause. But in reality, you gave up on the relationship and did not even think to talk about it with your therapist.
Perhaps this is the same thing that ends up happening in your intimate relationships with your partners. You do not know how to communicate the difficulty you are having and being on different pages of the relationship. As a result, you do not communicate your true feelings and end up walking away. This is a simplified explanation but could be true of what is really taking place beneath the surface. When you do not address the problem in your relationships whether it is with your therapist or with your partner, then nothing is resolved and the same issue comes up over and over again like a broken record player on repeat.
What I can do Instead: When you are not feeling connected with your therapist or believe that he or she is not providing you with what you need, do not leave the situation and block his/her office number. Talk to your therapist. Have a conversation about what is not feeling good for you and work on the issues together with your therapist. Not only does your therapist get some valuable information about what you need in session, but he or she can use that data to make some changes and meet those needs.
What If It’s Still Not the Right Fit: Let’s say that you did not feel a connection with your therapist and let him or her know about it, and still did not see any change. At this point, it may be time to meet someone else who can help you more effectively. The quality of the relationship you have with your therapist can vary. You may ultimately make a decision that the fit is not the best between you and your therapist. In that case, it is imperative that you have a discussion about it with your therapist. Just like you would in any other relationship, you want to give your therapist a heads up that something is not quite right. Your therapist will work with you to try to identify what it is and see if improvements can be made to the therapeutic relationship.
Your Therapist Also Feels the Same Disconnection: It is important to note that your therapist will also feel the same connection or disconnection issues as you. Your therapist may meet with you and believe that someone else with a different type of personality, or set of experiences may be a better fit for the work you are trying to accomplish together. Chances are that if you are not feeling the connection, your therapist is likely not feeling it either and a different provider can be the solution in most cases.
I'd Like to Learn More about the Therapeutic Relationship
The therapeutic relationship is a crucial part of the work that is done in therapy. Making sure you feel a connection with your therapist could help you reach your therapeutic goals and feel like you have a partner who is on the healing journey with you.
Our Couch Conversations therapists know the importance of a strong therapeutic connection. Our therapists will have a discussion with you at the beginning of therapy and explain the importance of a strong fit. But the conversation doesn’t end just there. You will continue to have an ongoing discussion with your therapist throughout therapy to promote honesty and trust in the relationship to be able to have difficult conversations about the relationship.
If you are ready to start your journey toward healing with your therapist, scroll below to contact us for more information or give us a call.