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The Therapeutic Relationship

imagePerspectives and Themes

Sheila Haugh and Stephen Paul (editors)
PCCS Books Ltd (2008) (pp 278) £20.00
ISBN 978-1-906254-04-9 (paperback)

Deborah Davies

Shelia Haugh and Stephen Paul have done an excellent job of bringing together in one book nineteen separate discussions on how different modalities consider the therapeutic relationship. Yet, however particular the theory might be, the common denominator remains the client. “[The] therapist becomes less reliant on ‘external’ theory and more reliant on their immediate interaction with a client.” Each chapter considers a particular modality from the perspective of a well-established, inspired practitioner; for instance, Ernesto Spinelli engages the reader in a discussion on his view of how the client-therapist relationship sits within existential psychotherapy. The book embraces a broad spectrum of approaches – Gestalt, CBT, transpersonal, non-western, group, political – and, by providing an informative historical, theoretical exploration of a particular school and how it applies to the therapeutic relationship, is an excellent resource for understanding different modalities of practice. Also provided within each chapter is a section on recent theoretical developments and where a particular approach stands with regard to research. Since most chapters consider what their growing edge or “challenge” might be, I felt, as a practitioner, reinvigorated and reconnected with core humanistic approaches and up to speed in a variety of different modalities. The relational quality of the writing pulled me into a discussion with myself, one that I now bring to colleagues. A useful bibliography accompanies each chapter.

Embedded at the heart of the book, and in harmony with the other viewpoints expressed, is a chapter written by Geoff Pelham on The Relational Approach. Emerging in the 1980s from psychoanalytical thinkers, the relational approach focuses on “two-person” therapy, a therapy which is co-constructed between therapist and client and which considers questions of countertransference and “who does that feeling belong to? me? or the client?” as not recognizing the mutuality of the relationship. Pelham warns that even as the focus is on the co-created relationship, the wider social reality must not be lost – a concern echoed by other contributors. The external reality of the clients must not be overlooked; questions of power (whether within the room between therapist and client or in the external life of the client) and diversity (culture, gender, sexuality, race, class) must be made conscious and worked with. Haugh and Paul identify questions of power and diversity as central to their joint project, and indeed if there is a theme running through these chapters I would say it was this and a push for a more “actualizing paradigm” as opposed to a “reactive paradigm”. Nick Totton, in his chapter on Therapy in its Social and Political Context, recognizes the extent of these under-considered issues within the psychotherapy community when he describes how many therapies seem to happen in a social and political vacuum; Yukishige Nakata offers us an opportunity to consider diversity in his essay on A Japanese Perspective, revealing a viewpoint that acknowledges how helpful psychotherapy can be for Japanese clients while still being viewed as “culturally-distant” to Japanese culture. Indeed there is an opportunity to acknowledge a different, even foreign perspective within psychotherapy. This collection of essays offers us such an opportunity.