A therapeutic relationship, or therapeutic alliance, refers to the close and consistent association that exists between at least two individuals: a health care professional and a person in therapy.
What is a Therapeutic Relationship?
The purpose of a therapeutic relationship is to assist the individual in therapy to change his or her life for the better. Such a relationship is essential, as it is oftentimes the first setting in which the person receiving treatment shares intimate thoughts, beliefs, and emotions regarding the issue(s) in question. As such, it is very important that therapist provides a safe, open, and non-judgmental atmosphere where the affected individual can be at ease.
Trust, respect, and congruence are major components of a good therapeutic relationship. Therapists are encouraged to show empathy and genuineness. As with any other social relationship, the therapeutic relationship has boundaries which help to define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Why is a Therapeutic Relationship Important?
Establishing a therapeutic relationship is a vital step in the recovery process and for the relationship to be productive, trust is key. A person seeking a therapist must trust that his or her therapist has the knowledge, skill set, and desire to provide appropriate care. Since the balance of power in the therapeutic relationship greatly favors the therapist, a person in treatment must also trust that confidential matters will remain confidential, and that he or she is safe from harm or exploitation at the hands of the therapist.
Once the therapeutic relationship is formed, an individual in therapy might be more inclined to open up emotionally and provide further details about his or her concerns. This, in turn, helps the therapist to better comprehend the affected person’s point of view, feelings, and motives. Equipped with a more complete understanding of the situation, the therapist is then able to provide the most appropriate treatment and employ the most effective strategies in order to address the issue.
What Happens When a Therapeutic Relationship Is Not Healthy?
An unhealthy therapeutic relationship is the consequence of violating the boundaries and ethics of acceptable behavior within the association. In some cases an unhealthy therapeutic relationship can cause significant harm to the person in therapy.
There are many warning signs of inappropriate therapist behavior that a person in therapy can watch out for. Be cautious if your therapist:
- Pays no attention to the changes you want to make and the goals you wish to achieve while in therapy.
- Is judgmental of your conduct, lifestyle, or situation.
- Encourages you to blame friends, family members, or a partner.
- Provides no explanation of how you are supposed to know your therapy is complete.
- Tries to be your friend outside of therapy or start a romantic relationship with you.
- Tries to touch you without prior consent.
- Talks too much or not at all.
- Attempts to push his or her spiritual beliefs on you.
- Tries to make decisions for you.
Each person has the right to quality mental health care. If you believe you are experiencing a negative therapeutic relationship, you can take steps to address it. Options for resolving an unhealthy therapeutic relationship will vary depending on the unique situation; for example, they can include:
- Discussing your concerns openly with your therapist,
- Terminating therapy with that clinician,
- Meeting with another therapist for a second opinion,
- Filing a complaint with your therapist’s employer and/or licensing board,
- Seeking legal counsel or law enforcement support.
- Ardito, R. B. & Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: Historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 270. doi: 3389/fpsyg.2011.00270
- de Rivera, J. L. G. (1992). The stages of psychotherapy. European Journal of Psychiatry, 6(1), 51-58.
Last Updated: 08-28-2015
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SivaDecember 7th, 2016 at 1:19 PM
OF the therapy I have had, no therapist said this goal or or that goal will determine when you are done with therapy.
Rachel MMarch 16th, 2017 at 1:40 AM
Who is the author of this document for “therapeutic relationship” please?
The GoodTherapy.org TeamMarch 16th, 2017 at 9:49 AM
Because this page has no single author and is regularly revisited and revised, this is how you would cite it:
Therapeutic Relationship. (2015, August 28). Retrieved from
This citation was created using the latest guidelines from APA on how to cite a web page without an author (see here: apastyle.org/learn/faqs/web-page-no-author.aspx). The only thing that would change would be the date, which will change when we update the page in the future.
We hope that helps!
The GoodTherapy.org Team
seenaMarch 14th, 2019 at 6:25 PM
thanks a lot .I used the info too
SarahFebruary 4th, 2018 at 1:22 PM
“Encourages you to blame friends, family members, or a partner.”
Is this relative though? I was the victim / survivor of extreme parental neglect and child sexual assault. Since many children blame themselves, “suggesting” that the “blame” does not reside with the child but adults in question is actually important? Or in spousal abuse.. Maybe it needs to be re-worded?
Maureen B OFebruary 13th, 2018 at 10:30 AM
Exactly. Many trauma survivors blame themselves for the abuse they underwent. To be able to say “It was not my fault” is a major sign of growth.
In the military sexual assault victims are told that they look clean so they are fine. They do not report the sexual assault on the medical report.March 9th, 2018 at 5:40 AM
When my lawyer was ready to provide the medical reports from the army’s clinic, she was astonished and in disbelief that the army did not report the sexual assault on the medical record. The army’s clinic did not even mention that I was referred to the clinic by SHARP (which is a fake organization too) because I was sexually assaulted.
The army clinic did not report the sexual assault; however, they are retaliating against me and my husband (they are contacting my husband’s superiors to complain about my him) because we continue speaking out about the fact that they are illegally denying me the basic human right of reporting an assault. In fact, the phenomenon of retaliating and discriminating against sexual assaulter’s victims is not a new phenomenon, on the contrary, it has been a long-lasting procedure in the army. What is making the difference in today army’s environment it is the recently public attention on the theme of sexual assault.
BethNovember 22nd, 2018 at 1:50 PM
Great article just what I was looking for! Many thanks :)
nancy mApril 13th, 2019 at 10:03 AM
i disagree, i don’t believe a relationship needs to exist. i go in the first session and say what i need to. i trust they are going to do the job i pay them for. i don’t need to fart around with a fantasy relationship in addition to my own issues in order to get progress. gave me quite a laugh though
Victoria BSeptember 4th, 2019 at 12:04 PM
Hey Ms. Nancy M… I wish to politely correct your thought/idea that you don’t believe that a therapeutic relationship is pertinent or even useful for effective therapy. In my understanding, one of the very first and useful observable things you will get to see for yourself first hand, is in how you tend to form relationships with others as seen in how you relate with your therapist. For example, in your case whereby all you want is what you have stated with your therapist, it might be easy to see that perhaps one of your challenges is actually forming warm and supportive relationships as evidenced by your on going relationship with your therapist. See, a relationship will naturally exist a therapist and client. The question then becomes is the relationship serving the clients needs. Remember, we humans are naturally relational people whether we admit to it or not. The healthier the relationship the the more likely that trust will develop and the more likely that deeper richer issues will be dealt with hence reaching some sort of therapeutic healing. I think you might have misconstrued relationship to carry some sexual connotation. So far from the truth.
Wishing you success in your wellness journey.
VictoriaSeptember 4th, 2019 at 12:22 PM
Hey again Ms. Nancy M…also I wish to demystify the erroneous take as stated by you that, you pay the therapist and you trust them to do the job. This is in fact one of the major misconceptions about psychotherapy. The truth of the matter is the client/patient is supposed to do all the work. See, no one knows you better than yourself. It is therefore the work of the therapist to listen, listen and listen while you share. Your content is what guides them to chip in and either challenge your thinking, re-direct, offer a moment of teaching, or very rarely offer advice. A good and effective therapist will very rarely offer advice. Why? Their main purpose is to walk side by side with their clients/patients not trying to teach or advice on matters, that aren’t palatable for the client/patient. It’s about walking at their pace. If for example, a client really wants to start running but he/she hasn’t demonstrated crawling abilities…the therapist must continue supporting and validating that crawling client/patient for this is what will build the necessary muscles to enable the next step-standing then walking then running. Validation is really key. That mind to mind connecting is critical.
Again, best of wishes.
RambusAugust 13th, 2021 at 4:14 PM
Therapeutic relationship is emotional prostitution. Across me sits person, usually female, which would ignore me outside “setting”, but because I pay her something like 15 times of national minimum wage, she “unconditionally accepts me”, as long as she makes money out of it. Outside therapy, no sane female would accept jobless BPDer and even with well paid job (with number of benefits) wouldn’t be enough to compensate for BPD. In reality, whole “therapeutic relationship” boils down to wallet to wallet relationship, everything else is pure delusion. And so called care? There is only “care” about getting money and having zero problems (attempted or even completed suicide). That is reality, and it doesn’t matter number of training certificates or degrees. Let’s be honest, people go to mental health field because: a) they are narcissistic and antisocial psychos so they can have easy access to victims or b) they know they are not for anything better, something where performance can be objectively evaluated and where nobody can point finger to project of any kind saying things like “it is very complex, there was no enough time, shoddy quality is better than worst” and things like that. Just compare gurus’ speak why their “magic healing” failed and therapists’, throw magic word “resistance” into mix and they are about the same.
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