The counselling relationship and boundaries
The work you accomplish with your counsellor is based on the therapeutic relationship built between you. It is the cornerstone of effective and beneficial therapy. The word therapy originates in the Greek word “therapeia” meaning to heal. But, enough of the origins and meanings of the word, let’s consider the “relationship” itself.
It’s not the same as your everyday relationship; in this context we are, together, striving to improve, change and develop you as a person. Therefore we work to develop our relationship. This, when you consider the many negative examples of relationships that we might have experienced, may be difficult to see in a positive light. On many occasions we might have gone into a relationship knowing the outcome; whether through the terms and conditions, prenuptial agreements or rules and penalty clauses stated and found out that someone somewhere changed the regulations. Often there is a cost to us in terms of emotional, psychological, physical or asset loss. A positive has become a negative.
In counselling the negative template of relationship is transformed into a positive; a worthwhile template to take forward through life. The therapeutic relationship is formed around our “contract” or boundaries of work. Unlike rules, which invariably come with rigid consequences or penalties, boundaries are in place to permit exploration of the counsellor and client’s relationship; with allowances for misunderstandings or pushing the bounds without dire penalties. Invariably there might be a situation or circumstances that mean the boundaries have to be re-emphasised or re-visited but this is part of relationship journey that both client and counsellor embark on.
Petruska Clarkson’s “The Therapeutic Relationship" (Whurr Publishers Ltd: London: 1995) cites five different modes of relationship which may be seen in therapy. From the initial contact level (working alliance) through transference/countertransference, the reparative relationship and person to person, to the transpersonal relationship. More technical jargon! However, they chart the development of our work to assist you (the client) in better experiencing human relationships in general, not just in therapy. So finding our feet together (working alliance) to recognising the influence of previous relationships (like parental or teacher) on the counselling work (transferencial) to a reparative stage. The relationship that the counsellor provides as an example of how relationships can be positive or different from before. The person to person relationship considers that this is the real relationship of and between people – we accept behaviour and feelings as genuine. Clarkson considered the transpersonal relationship as being at a spiritual level.
There is no step following to this model of relationships, you can jump around, but the understanding of relationships is the important part. And counselling allows that to happen for each individual at no cost to the client in terms of right or wrong, power or judgement. It can cost financially but that is it. Or you might find counselling for free if you can.
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About Ian Collings
BACP registered and accredited counsellor and psychotherapist with a BSc(Hons.) degree in counselling and psychotherapy working in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Specialising in working with individuals and couples around; addictions, sexual abuse, relationship issues, anxiety and depression amongst other matters.