Yesterday I proposed that therapy is an alternative social reality. Today I explore the relational nature of therapeutic reality. Does this seem right?
The therapeutic reality is relational. It isn’t a set of techniques or procedures, nor is it driven toward the attainment of particular goals. It is the establishment of a particular kind of engagement between individuals, a dynamic situation of being with one another in a distinct sort of hetero-social reality.
The therapeutic relationship is distinct and asymmetrical. Unlike friendships or collegial relationships characteristic of ordinary social reality, the client’s perspective in the relationship is central. The therapist engages in the therapeutic relationship specifically for the sake of the client. However, the asymmetry does not extend farther than this. The therapeutic relationship need not purposely recapitulate other asymmetrical relationships in which the client has previously participated; e.g., between child and parent, student and teacher, patient and doctor, performer and coach, worker and employer, parishioner and priest. The client’s participation in such relationships may affect his perceptions of the therapeutic relationship, and the client may transfer these other stereotypic asymmetries to the therapeutic relationship. While such transferences may prove insightful in the therapeutic engagement, the therapist need not structure the relationship so as to simulate and to relive these transferences.
The relationship is based on care. The therapist cares for the client and regards the well-being of the client as his primary concern in the relationship. The therapist must establish his trustworthiness to the client, that the therapist is not attempting to exploit the client, nor to reduce the client to an object under inspection, nor to treat the client as an instrument for achieving the therapist’s goals, even if those goals refer back to the success/adjustment/health of the client. Whatever understanding or affection the therapist experiences in the therapeutic relationship is directed primarily toward the well-being of the client, not for the sake of the therapist.
The relationship moves in the direction of personal and interpersonal understanding. Every individual understands himself, the world, and other people through a particular interpretive perspective: a way of making sense of phenomena and ascribing meaning to them. Based in care for the client, the therapist tries: (a) to understand the client’s perspective, (b) to help the client understand his own perspective, and (c) to help the client understand the therapist’s perspective. In the course moving toward mutual understanding of one another’s perspectives, the therapeutic relationship emerges into a joint interpretive perspective in which both therapist and client participate. Nonetheless, this joint perspective remains asymmetrical: it arises in care for the client and for the client’s sake.
The relationship is artificial. The asymmetrical therapeutic relationship is not characteristic of everyday social reality. What occurs in the therapeutic relationship may bear little resemblance to social engagement outside the context of the therapeutic relationship. The care within which the therapist engages the client, the asymmetrical joint perspective that emerges from interaction between client and therapist: these need not serve as exemplars for establishing relationships in everyday social reality.