Relational therapy is a new and specialized branch of psychotherapy. Studies show that it’s useful for various problems, including abuse, addiction, anxiety, depression, disorders, insecurity, lack of trust, partner conflicts and relationship difficulties, phobias, and trauma triggers. Read on to learn more about relational therapy and whether it’s right for you.
What Is Relational Therapy?
Relational therapy, also known as relational cultural therapy, focuses on relationships. The focus may be on your relationship with yourself, self-esteem, or other people. It does not try to understand mental illness due to unconscious struggles or early childhood events.
Instead, it highlights the importance of relationships in mental health and the impact of interpersonal interactions on how we feel and think about ourselves. The types of interpersonal problems that relational therapy aims to address include:
- Emotional distance from others
- Difficulty building intimate relationships
- Inability to trust others
- Constant feelings of loneliness or isolation
- Lack of satisfaction in romantic relationships
- Inability to control anger or aggression
Relational therapy is based on the idea that all humans are hardwired for connection. This therapy model emphasizes developing healthy, interdependent relationships with others as a key to emotional well-being. But since we all have different communication styles and ways of relating to one another, we run into conflict with other people from time to time.
It takes a holistic approach to treatment. In addition to addressing specific problems, this technique strives to improve overall life satisfaction by helping individuals connect with themselves and others at a deep emotional level.
What Are the Core Principles of Relational Therapy?
There are several core principles common to relational psychotherapy. These include:
Emphasis on the relationship.
This distinguishes this approach from other mental health therapies, and it’s reflected in the name of the approach itself. Clients and therapists work together to create a therapeutic relationship that can lead to better coping skills and improved quality of life.
Relational therapy takes place within a dialogue between client and therapist. Through this dialogue, the therapist does not give the therapy goals but instead emerges over time.
Emphasis on emotion.
In relational therapy, emotions are viewed as valuable guides rather than something that needs to be squelched or ignored when they interfere with how people would like to live their lives. Feelings are also often metaphors for personal truths that can help people grow as individuals when they allow themselves to experience them fully.
Focus on here and now.
The problems that bring people into therapy aren’t necessarily rooted in childhood, adolescence, or any other specific point in the past — though past experiences can undoubtedly play a role in how people see and interact with the world around them today. Instead, people tend to focus on their immediate situations, using the therapy sessions as an opportunity to “road test” new behaviors.
How Does Relational Therapy Work?
The client and therapist work together to establish a relationship based on trust and respect. Once a relationship has been developed, the therapist will use this relationship to help the client make positive changes in their life.
While there is no one way to approach relational therapy, many therapists use the same basic model when working with clients. A good therapist will tailor their approach to their client’s needs, but they will likely follow these steps:
- The therapist establishes a bond with the client.
- The therapist helps the client understand how their problems developed or worsened due to relationships with others.
- The therapist helps the client change negative patterns in their life by building new relationships or improving existing ones.
To explain the above points, a relational therapist will work with you to understand how your current relationships are working for you and what isn’t working about them. They will help you explore ways to change those patterns. You may have heard the term “repeating old patterns” before — relational therapy can help you break those patterns to have healthier relationships in the future.
To do this, they can use various strategies, including helping you look at your family history, explore your behavior patterns, and talk about your expectations for yourself and others around you. Some people find that it helps them understand their own lives and learn how to make different choices.
What Are the Techniques of Relational Therapy?
Relational therapy integrates these three types of therapeutic approaches:
It’s where a therapist analyzes the client’s experiences and how they perceive their current situation. The therapist also assesses how the client relates to others and themselves. The client can understand how their previous experiences may have shaped their current behaviors and thoughts.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
This therapy emphasizes a person’s thoughts and actions about behavior patterns that can cause emotional problems. It aims to alter negative thought patterns into more positive ones so the client can respond differently to situations that usually cause distress.
This is a treatment for people who have problems in relationships with others or themselves. It aims to help clients become more self-aware and avoid toxic behaviors in their relationships with others or themselves.
How Can Relational Therapy Help?
Professional therapists using relational therapy can help you explore your relationship history, understand your motivations for entering into and staying in unhealthy relationships, and develop strategies for improving future relationships.
Briefly stated, relational therapy can help you:
- Identify patterns in your life that indicate that you may be choosing partners who are not healthy for you.
- Learn how to choose healthier partners.
- Overcome fears of being alone or of commitment.
- Find ways to deal with the pain of past relationships.
- Deal with the loss of a relationship.
Benefits of Relational Therapy
Relational therapy can be helpful in a variety of ways. It can help you:
- Discover the cause of your emotional difficulties
- Examine how past experiences affect your present relationships
- Understand how you relate to others and how they relate to you
- Improve communication skills
- Identify and change negative patterns of relating
- Learn how to express feelings and needs effectively
- Understand the roles you choose to play in your relationships and why you choose them
- Gain insight into yourself, your partner, and the relationship
What Are the Things to Consider Before Getting Started With Relational Theory?
To have a healthy relationship, you must understand your partner’s personality well.
Here are some things to consider before getting started with relational theory:
- People are more likely to be in relationships if they feel “comfortable” with the person they are talking to.
- You will find it easier to talk about yourself if you can relate to another person.
- The more comfortable you are with your personality, the easier it will be for you to connect with others.
- When you start dating someone, there will always be some uncertainty about your relationship.
- It would help if you didn’t let this uncertainty keep you from discussing your feelings and desires.
- If your relationship has reached the point where you are ready to move forward, it is time for you to get serious about each other.
What to Look for in a Relational Therapist?
Whether you’re thinking about an in-home relational therapist or you’re already doing therapy, here are some things to watch for:
- Is the therapist licensed? If not, ask for a letter from their state board verifying their practice.
- What is their training? Most therapists do a Masters or Doctorate.
- Are they comfortable with your approach and issues? If not, be obvious upfront. You may want another therapist.
– Have they been in practice long enough to know what they’re doing?
Related Read: How Can Relationship Counseling Help You?
A relational approach promotes an awareness of our own emotions and interpersonal behavior and that of others. Doing so encourages us to accept responsibility for the situations we find ourselves in. It brings to the surface patterns that might be denied or concealed, allowing us to take control over them.
- Cait, C.-A. (2016). Relational theory. Theoretical Perspectives for Direct Social Work Practice. https://doi.org/10.1891/9780826119483.0008
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Relational Psychotherapy. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310846
- Banks, A. (2006). Relational therapy for trauma. Journal of Trauma Practice, 5(1), 25–47. https://doi.org/10.1300/j189v05n01_03
- Duffey, T., & Somody, C. (2011). The role of relational-cultural theory in Mental Health Counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 33(3), 223–242. https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.33.3.c10410226u275647