Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Interdependence Theory and the Client-Therapist Relationship: A Model for Cognitive Psychotherapy

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Interdependence Theory and the Client-Therapist Relationship: A Model for Cognitive Psychotherapy

Article excerpt

Interdependence theory is a cognitive model of interpersonal behavior that elucidates how interacting individuals have an effect on each other's behavior and affective states (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978). This model is adapted to the client-therapist relationship and illustrated as a method of facilitating rapport and producing congruent therapeutic goals. It is concluded that interdependence theory offers a framework for enhancing the relationship in directive cognitive-oriented therapies.

The relationship between client and therapist is gaining acceptance among directive cognitive and behavioral therapies as an extremely important aspect of their interventions (Thompson & Williams, 1987). It is especially crucial given the possibility that active cognitive techniques, requiring hard work by both partners, may lead to relationship strain and problems. Is it possible to be directive, facilitate congruent goals, and foster a positive rapport?

The current article offers a model designed to facilitate the clienttherapist working relationship through the formation of congruent therapeutic goals. This article will first briefly review interdependence theory as it has been applied to interpersonal relationships. This will include a review of: (l) the three types of control in interdependent situations; (2) the four major properties of interdependent relationships; and (3) the transformational processes which are postulated to occur in interpersonal situations. Finally, these principles will be explored as a conceptual model for understanding client-therapist relationships.


The first sections of this paper, unless referenced otherwise, will review interdependence theory as articulated by Kelley (1979), Kelley and Thibaut (1978), and Thibaut and Kelley (1959). Interdependence theory can be viewed as a cognitive model of interpersonal behavior where interacting people have an effect on each other's behavior and affective outcomes (i.e., feeling states). The theory offers an account of how individuals take in and process information about their environments, other's actions, and the anticipated outcomes of these actions for selecting particular responses in a given interpersonal situation. Interpersonal behavior is thus conceptualized as a result of a complex interaction between perceptions of the situation, including perceptions of the other individual, and the anticipated outcomes of that interaction for both parties.

A major assumption of interdependence theory is that individuals are capable of identifying and quantifying the affective rewards and costs of specific interactions. This is to say that individuals, based on past experiences, current situational information, and personal beliefs about themselves and others, can anticipate to some degree the possible outcomes of certain interpersonal interactions. In addition, it is believed that individuals can quantify these outcomes in regard to the levels of enjoyment or satisfaction which may be derived from them.

Based on this assumption, it is possible to construct an outcome or payoff matrix of an interdependent situation as a numerical model for understanding the three sources of control that are believed to affect interpersonal behavior. Figure 1 illustrates a matrix of payoffs for a couple choosing between two movies (the top matrix) and its three component parts: reflexive, fate, and behavioral control (the three bottom matrices). Each matrix cell is divided by a diagonal with the male's ratings of outcome represented above the diagonal and the female's ratings below the diagonal.

It can be seen that both persons have the ability to affect their own individual outcomes by choosing between movie A or B. This type of control over one's affective outcomes has been labeled as reflexive control. This effect can be seen by examining the mean ratings of columns for the male and the mean ratings of rows for the female. …

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