The Importance of Relationships in Therapy

About a year ago, a well known expert in autism spectrum disorders gave a two-hour presentation at ICAN Center for Autism.  After numerous video illustrations, PowerPoint slides, flow charts, and a condensing of years of refinement of her philosophies and values into the time it would take to watch two episodes of CSI (or four Jersey Shores), she concluded by essentially saying, "Just promise me you'll have a relationship with your clients."

Why would she put so much emphasis on establishing a strong bond between a therapist and a client?  For individuals who have difficulty in communicating, or participating in activities of daily living, or planning even the smallest motor movement, life can at times be a difficult struggle.  It is so important for these individuals to feel, as much as possible, that there is someone "in their corner" - someone who is a dependable presence, someone who has common interests, someone who is available to share in their joy, sadness, and all emotions in-between.  When I work with clients who have deficits in their ability to communicate and maintain emotional regulation, I try my best to share in their experiences, with the hopeful message to them being: you are not alone - I am right there with you.  Check out this video clip as an illustration:

When she was happy, I was happy, too.  If she would have cried, I would have been upset, as well.  Relationships are built upon shared experiences and interests, which lead to emotional bonds which can be strengthened or weakened over time.  Therapy goals will then support, and be supported by, the quality of this relationship.

Another importance of the therapist-client relationship, as anyone who has seen the recent Academy Award winner The King's Speech can attest to, is the ability of the therapist to instill a sense of trust and equality in their interactions with the client.  If the client doesn't buy in to what you are doing, or if they are not internally motivated to work towards reaching goals, the therapeutic progress may be slow to non-existent.  Without a sense of trust and a strong relationship, would a grown man be able to convince another grown man to make silly noises and perform some Jazzercise-esque dance moves?