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What Is a Therapeutic Relationship?

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Updated June 30, 2014

Question: What Is a Therapeutic Relationship?
Answer:

The therapeutic relationship, or therapeutic alliance, is the relationship between a counselor or therapist and a client.

Research has shown that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important aspects of successful recovery from an addiction. It is even more important than the therapeutic approach that the therapist uses. However, matching clients and therapists is a difficult process, and usually a good match occurs by luck rather than judgment.

For this reason, it is important to express any concerns you have about the quality of your therapeutic relationship with your therapist, either to the therapist, or to an administrator of your addictions program.

Important characteristics of a good therapeutic relationship include:

  • Trust - the client needs to trust the therapist, and the therapist needs to trust the client, although building trust may take time.
  • Rapport - the client needs to be able to talk openly and honestly, and the therapist needs to be able to listen without judgment.
  • Collaboration - the therapist and the client must work as a team to develop mutual understanding, and to set and follow through on goals.

A therapeutic relationship should never involve:

  • Sexual contact - even if the client "makes the first move," a sexual relationship between a client and a therapist is never acceptable.
  • Abuse - neither the client nor the therapist should ever engage in abuse of any kind, whether verbal, physical or emotional.
  • Prejudice - neither the client nor the therapist should ever use racist or sexist language or behavior, or express any prejudice based on characteristics such as religion, background, sexuality, marital status or other personal characteristics.
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