The Key to “Good” Therapy and Stronger Relationships
Good therapy is an excellent means of mediating challenges within our personal relationships. Often overlooked is the relationship between the therapist and the patient. This relationship, although different from those in the patient’s personal life, can get to a very personal level. Therapy cannot be effective without a strong connection between therapist and patient. “Good” therapy is facilitated through trust and open communication, both of which are essential to the healing process of the patient. Research confirms this. In fact, one study, published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, revealed that among the factors that influence client outcomes in therapy include specific therapy techniques and what the authors call “common factors.” These common factors are defined as “empathy, warmth, and the therapeutic relationship,” which are shown to correlate more strongly with patient outcome than “specialized treatment interventions.”
The alliance between the therapist and the patient is not only important but integral to initiating positive change. Through this relationship, a transformation takes place, but only if a healthy connection is established between therapist and patient. The authors of the study mentioned above add that “decades of research indicate that the provision of therapy is an interpersonal process in which a main curative component is the nature of the therapeutic relationship.” Thus, they urge that clinicians remember this as being “the foundation of our efforts to help others.” Therefore, the improvement of psychotherapy as a practice lies in focusing on “improving one’s ability to relate to clients and tailoring that relationship to individual clients.”
Dr. Lisa Firestone is a clinical psychologist and Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association, an organization dedicated to saving lives and enhancing mental health in order to address social problems such as suicide, child abuse, violence, and troubled personal relationships. Dr. Firestone explains that “a good therapist has a deep interest in their client as an individual and will see and relate to them in ways that are sensitively tailored to the person’s specific needs.” As such, there is no “one-size-fits-all” in terms of effective therapeutic treatment. This is because no person is exactly like another, therefore successful treatment must be personalized. Thus, therapists must strive to be authentic, with genuine human feelings, and able to tune in to the state of their patients to build trust and mutual understanding.
Building on Personal Relationship Skills is the Beginning to Good Therapy
Many problems that therapists often hear about stem from personal relationship issues. Knowing this, it begins to make sense why healing, then, would also come from a relationship. According to Dr. Firestone, “an attuned therapist can offer a person, not just a new way of looking at themselves but at relationships in general.” Taking note from attachment research, we learn that one of the most significant predictors of attachment patterns in our relationships is those that we have growing up and the attachment strategies that form from them. This stage of our lives shapes the reactions we have and create later in our lives, as well as those we create in others. Dr. Firestone says that “the best way to form healthier, more secure attachments is to make sense and feel the full pain of our story.” This “coherent narrative,” as it is also known, is a process of self-understanding which is one of the gifts of the therapeutic process. The therapist, through their empathy and curiosity, creates a safe space in which the patient can explore their own personal narrative and begin to make sense of it and their experiences.
Finding a Fresh Start through Good Therapy
By reacting to their patient with attunement and reflection, the patient can learn to form a new model of attachment which can benefit them in their own lives. In fact, as Dr. Firestone explains, “the formation of a secure attachment to the therapist has been shown to be significantly associated with greater reductions in client distress. By experiencing a secure attachment with a good therapist, the person can feel safe to start to resolve some of their old traumas and evolve their model of relating.” This is yet another reason why the establishment of trust is not only necessary but essential to the success of the therapy’s outcome.
Trust is the foundation upon which the patient feels secure enough to reveal their true selves, including all fears, anxieties, insecurities, and vulnerabilities. People who seek good therapy pull back their defenses and, in doing so, lay bare what they truly want and need to be fulfilled, including their hopes and aspirations. Through this, we can learn not only who we are, but also who we want to become, and from there, make the necessary steps towards our metamorphosis. Through good therapy, we learn how to distinguish our true feelings, priorities, and qualities, from the negativity which prevents us from achieving our full potential.