Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center
Olympia, Washington

Types of Client-Therapist Relationships

Client-therapist relationships can be thought to fall into the following types. Keep in mind that this description is not a static state but is organic, fluid, and constantly changing. It is looked at from an interactional point of view, therefore, the therapist can influence the type of relationship that develops.

  1. Visitor Type Relationship

  2. This category of relationship occurs when during the course of the session and/or at the end of the assessment session, it is clear that the therapist and the client have been unable to come up with a complaint or a goal (see note on the criteria for workable goals). The client(s) may have “gripes”, but there is no expectation of change and solution.

    What to do: Give lots of positive feedback for what is going right and/or let the client know that we appreciate what a tough time he/she is having. The team can be very worried about his/her future and consequences of not solving the problem(s). Immediately offer another appointment, during which goal negotiation can take place. The therapist must be willing to accept that some clients may never pass this stage. A difficult clinical decision that should be made based on a variety of factors.

  3. Complainant Type Relationship

  4. The client is very observant and detailed in the description of complaints, usually is good at describing the patterns and sequences. By the end of the assessment phase it is clear that the therapist and client have the beginnings of a goal and some expectation of change and solution. The client, however, is not committed to taking steps to solve the problems and/or it is not clear to the client that he/she must take steps to find solutions.

    What to do: The client has identified what the solution would look like and there is some expectation of change, but the decision that he/she must take steps is not quite there yet. Therefore it would be advisable to limit the tasks to thinking or observation. He/she is more likely to comply with such a directive, thus, reducing the possibility of building “resistance”.

  5. Customer Type Relationship

  6. By the end of the assessment phase it is clear that the therapist and the client have together constructed a compliant which includes at least the beginnings of a goal and some expectations of solution. The client also becomes aware that the solution requires him/her to take necessary actions. The client expresses verbally and non-verbally he/she is ready to DO something to find a solution.

    What to do: Since the client is willing to take steps towards a solution, the therapist can go ahead and give behavioral tasks. The next step is to monitor his/her behaviors towards solution.

Word of caution: As stated earlier, not all client-therapist relationships fall into neat categories. This is just a guideline. When not sure, it is better to take a conservative approach.

© 1989 Insoo Kim Berg

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