Examining the Therapist/Client Relationship

Just where are the boundaries between therapist and client? What can you expect your therapist to divulge about himself and his view on the world? This is often one of the confusing aspects of therapy for many clients.
Irvin Yalom has been an advocate of having a less rigid approach to therapy in certain cases, though this is an exception to the rule. There has long been debate about how close a therapist should allow clients to become and how much of their life they are able to disclose. This is a difficult problem for both parties and if not handled correctly could lead to the premature end of therapy. Maybe we should take a look at the reasons why therapists generally don’t disclose much about themselves.

Research has repeatedly shown that the single most curative factor in therapy isn’t simply the technique employed, or the therapeutic approach (from psychoanalytic, to cognitive-behavioral, to humanistic), but the relationship between client and therapist that develops during the course of treatment. Whether, deep down, the therapist is providing a corrective parenting experience, an unprecedented emotional release and resolution, or (somewhat more narrowly) the knowledge or skills requisite to the change requested by the client, ultimately it’s the relationship that principally determines the success of this unique professional engagement. Leon Saltzer Phd.

Firstly and the most basic reason is that you or your insurance are not paying the therapist to talk about their own issues or private life.  More is generally gained from listening than talking. This, of course does depend on the persuasion of the therapist concerned. Psychoanalysts tend not to divulge much at all and usually nothing about themselves, whereas CBT therapists will often use their own or other’s experiences as a realistic example of how they coped in certain situations, though care should even be taken here. It is often tempting as therapy advances to open the doors a little and allow clients in and I have done this occasionally when I thought it may help the process but generally boundaries need to be kept. Usually private life is only an issue when something happens that could affect the therapist’s ability to provide therapy to the client.The second reason and one that many will not have thought of is that being a therapist can be a dangerous job. Early on in my career, I was physically attacked by a client. This attack came completely out of the blue and I was unprepared for it. The lady concerned had severe issues and was frustrated with a point we were working on and exploded. This is why some therapists are reluctant to talk about their family and private life, purely to protect themselves and such cases are not unknown.

Should you really expect your therapist to have general opinions on current affairs, likes and dislikes, politics, etc? Some do but don’t really expect an in-depth discussion about any of these issues. A therapist won’t do this for one very good reason…the chance of disagreement. We all have our own views on things and sometimes on different ends of the spectrum. Your therapist will not want to alienate you or intimidate you with strong opinions on such things (or waste your time). Therapist non-disclosure sidesteps this by making the focus your background, beliefs and attitudes, and making the therapist responsible for keeping their bias in check.

As a CBT therapist, I see the relationship with the client as a model for the client’s relationships with others outside of therapy. I work in an atmosphere of genuine respect, empathy and regard for the client’s feelings and situation. The fact that a client is able to talk about everything, receive and give feedback and realise they are not being judged is often the key to recovery. This is where the therapist bears a huge responsibility for the framework of the relationship. Often the therapist may be the first person who has ever listened to them and appeared to understand. This can lead to the inevitable outcome of seeing the therapist as more than just a service provider, at best a friend…to the extreme as a potential partner. Therapists will promote this transference but must try to hold it in a place where it is useful for therapy and deal with any unrealistic client feelings as part of therapy. What’s the problem with transference? Rather than connecting with the person,  the client (and sometimes the therapist) is often relating to a template, which may be quite different from the flesh and blood version. The bottom line is always that these feelings  are mostly unrealistic and should be dealt with as such. However, as already stated, therapists expect transference on this deep level and are trained to deal with it. It is often the sign that the relationship is where it should be to instigate change.  A client should never be afraid to reveal that they have romantic, sexual, loving or other feelings towards their therapist. The important thing is to talk about it.

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals,couples,  groups and companies globally. Online therapy is, in my experience, effective for treating a number of major conditions. Are you having issues that you need to talk through? I have a range of plans that can help you get the help you need.  Online Therapy details : Here ……

  6 comments for “Examining the Therapist/Client Relationship

  1. July 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    It took me many years to make the decision to try a therapist. I only did so when I began blogging and saw how it helped others. For 7 weeks recently I went to a man who assured me he was experienced w/ adults who were molested as children and PTSD. As far as I’m concerned, he was a fraud and I doubt I’ll try again. When I told him I might like to go to church he ranted that was a bunch of bunk- there is no God… He went on and on why I should try a certain medication because it worked for him and why he took it. On the first visit I told him my depression began when my brother committed suicide. On the 6th visit I mentioned it again and he said “your brother commuted suicide?!” I realized then I’d never seen him write anything down – nor did he have a chart on me. Sorry for the rant. I like your blog and get more from it than anything else re therapy. Thanks for this post.

    • July 4, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Hello Mandy. Sorry you had this experience. It does sound like the man you mentioned should be as far away from the therapy room as possible. However, I believe he is the exception to the rule. There are many competent, hard working therapists out there who really make a difference in people’s lives. I will admit, there are also some rogues out there too. Finally, thanks for the kind words about the blog.

      • July 4, 2014 at 10:19 am

        Thanks, Dr. Jenner. I know you’re right–there are many good therapists.

  2. Emerald
    August 6, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Hello Dr Jenner

    Thank you for this insightful post.

    I’ve been having CBT and have become very attracted to the therapist. I’ve tried to consider the situation dispassionately (easier said than done) and it seems that he is being friendly yet aloof with me. I realize this is probably because my transference reaction is evoking countertransference from him.

    This pattern mirrors all my romantic relationships, where I try to present myself as perfect and seek male attention, and end up getting attention from men who are simultaneously infatuated and emotionally unavailable to me i.e. commitment-phobic men.

    I’m tossing up whether to tell my therapist. The CBT so far has not been about my relationship problems but I intend to ask him if he could provide further CBT around those issues. If he can’t, I won’t tell him but I will tell the next person to whom he refers me. If he can, I feel it’s an “elephant in the room” that needs acknowledgement for me to progress. But, I also know that CBT isn’t as touchy-feely as other therapies, so maybe I shouldn’t go into this at all.

    It’s hard to know what to do.

    • August 7, 2014 at 1:52 am

      This is certainly something that you should bring up in therapy. Based on my own experience, your therapist will reset the boundaries needed for therapy in order to deal with this issue or he will refer you to another therapist..

      • Emerald
        August 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm

        Thank you for your feedback – I appreciate this.

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