Academic journal article The European Journal of Counselling Psychology

Women as Counselling and Psychotherapy Clients: Researching the Therapeutic Relationship

Academic journal article The European Journal of Counselling Psychology

Women as Counselling and Psychotherapy Clients: Researching the Therapeutic Relationship

Article excerpt

The therapeutic relationship, as a qualitative characteristic of the counselling and psychotherapeutic practice, is considered to be inextricably bound to every theoretical approach. Indeed, over the last years, research has focused on this unique type of relationship in an attempt to find the common ground for effective treatment among the different approaches (Norcross, 2002, 2011).

Despite the therapeutic relationship’s centrality in the counselling process, defining and describing its structural characteristics has been problematic. One of the reasons may involve the various theoretical and epistemological foundations of the different approaches to counselling. In addition to that, as McLeod (2007) suggested, when discussing counselling, it is easier to use a language that involves techniques and methods than a language that involves relational context. However, removing the interpersonal for the instrumental could divert the attention from one of the most important aspects of therapy.

The different approaches to therapy use different paradigms to understand the therapy process and ultimately the therapeutic relationship. For example, in psychoanalysis the therapist’s goal is the creation of a transferential relationship, where feelings, assumptions and patterns regarding significant authority figures of the client’s past are projected to the counsellor (Corey, 2009). Person-centred approach understands therapeutic change as a process that happens inside an accepting and empathetic client-counsellor relationship (Barrett-Lennard, 2007). For feminist therapy, the focus is not only on the interpersonal, but also on the socio-political aspects of the therapeutic relationship. Feminist counsellors consider power in the therapeutic relationship to be unequally distributed at the clients’ expense and, therefore, strive for an egalitarian relational experience (Brown, 2010).

The present study attempts to address the therapeutic relationship from the clients’ point of view. The focus is on female clients since, on the one hand, women constitute the majority of counselling and psychotherapy clients and, on the other hand, their experiences are often excluded from traditional psychological theories (Matlin, 2008). Thus, the study’s main goal is to give a voice to female clients and address their experiences of the therapeutic relationship.

At this point, we would like to clarify that the data of the study derived from Kastrani’s (2012) doctoral thesis, which explored women’s experience in therapy, adopting a qualitative methodology. From the same thesis, another article was produced, focusing on the clients’ experience of their counsellor’s gender and the role that it plays in forming a gendered therapeutic relationship (e.g. the choice of the counsellor’s gender, how a male and a female counsellor are experienced differently in the therapeutic relationship, etc.) (Kastrani, Deliyianni-Kouimtzis, & Athanasiades, 2015). The present study is concerned with the clients’ experience of their therapeutic relationship, which is about mapping the therapeutic relationship and explaining its effective aspects. Thus, gender in the present study plays a role only in that the clients of the study are women and they share their experiences as women.

Literature Review

Research on the Therapeutic Relationship

The therapeutic relationship has been steadily connected to counselling’s effectiveness by a number of studies (Baldwin, Wampold, & Imel, 2007; Cooper, 2008; Horvath, 2000; Horvath & Bedi 2002; Paul & Charura, 2014). In fact, Paul and Charura (2014) stated that “It is accepted beyond doubt that the therapeutic relationship is the most significant in-therapy factor for positive outcomes” (p. 43).

Lambert and Barley (2002), in their research review, concluded that the different aspects of the therapeutic relationship are related, to a larger degree, with the therapeutic outcome when compared to specialized therapeutic techniques. …

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