‘Really relating – relating really’: What is the ‘real relationship’ in counselling psychotherapy?
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‘Really relating – relating really’: What is the ‘real relationship’ in counselling psychotherapy?

Although it often operates ‘silently’, the ‘personal relationship’ is a part of everything that transpires between therapist and client. Generally, we are unconscious of it happening and if the relating is innate – natural, true and ‘real’, then maybe ‘silently’ is how it should be experienced.

For me, the term ‘personal relationship’ is distinct from ‘personal friendship’ but still makes available – individual attention, acceptance, warmth, trust, genuineness, open-ness, real-ness, and so on – and no deceptions. The therapist and client ‘being in a relationship’, in this context, is nothing to be feared but instead, something to be encouraged and assured by.

As a frequently misunderstood term, I wanted to write something briefly about the idea of the personal relationship or ‘real relationship’ in the counselling psychotherapy setting. This is the way that I work and the relationship that I co-evolve with the person in front of me. It’s about two people ‘being real’, together, in the therapy process, and from the power of real-ness, comes a true-ness and I believe, a ‘way-in’ (engagement; commitment, safety) and a ‘way-out’ (sense is made; reality is improved or perceptions are altered – positively) – for the client.

The idea of ‘real relationship’ in counselling psychotherapy – a somewhat overshadowed concept, is about the twin features of ‘realism’ and ‘genuineness’. ‘Realism’ being how we perceive and experience accurately ‘each-other’ (not just the therapist of the client), and ‘Genuineness’, being about how we (therapist and client) avoid deception; including self-deception, in the relating that takes place between us both. We might do this through the confrontation of feelings and behaviours, including those that might be felt but are not spoken. Speaking about these things, ‘really’ and with all our skill and sensitivity, in a ‘real relationship’ will help deepen the trust, knowledge and understanding in the relationship.

It is offered that the idea of a ‘real’ or ‘personal’ relationship between client and therapist has existed since the earliest days of psychotherapy. Yet the notion of ‘real relationship’ has been frequently overlooked – instead, psychotherapy research has focused on something called the ‘working alliance’; a still important but subtly different idea that is concerned with the ‘joining’ that takes place between client and therapist to clarify the tasks, goals, and bond in therapy. Also, the idea of ‘transference’ and ‘countertransference’, which is concerned with the direction and redirection of feelings, desires, and expectations between the client and their therapist. Both things are typically declared and worked through openly and sensitively in ‘real relationship’ terms – how could these things not be once we know of them?

People that have experienced my approach to therapy will know the importance that real-ness or ‘real relationship’ plays in my work. I believe that there is significance between a ‘real relationship’ emerging, between two people; one seeking help and one offering, giving that help, and successful therapeutic outcomes. As the components that make-up our ways of relating are subtle and generally an unconscious feature of therapy, the clinical evidence to support claims are hard to measure and as such are considered subjective. More opinion than fact.

For now, I intend to ‘listen to the silence’ that guides my ‘being’ with another person – trust in me and trust in them and the inbetween-ness – the ‘between-us’, that will always exist, spoken about, or not.

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