The therapeutic relationship is considered to be the most pertinent component in facilitating the successful resolution of a clients presenting problems. The therapeutic relationship simply defined is, the collaborative relationship between client and therapist, wholly focused on the client, to gain understanding of and effectively change the client in a manner that promotes their overall well-being.
The ability of the therapist to facilitate a strong working therapeutic relationship is what really makes or breaks a therapist, so to speak. Online therapists are of no exception. There are many people in the mental health profession who are strongly attuned and hold great understanding of the various theoretical orientations that are applied in therapy. Yet, even they may not be suited to be a therapist.
It is not so easy to educate a therapist to be empathic, compassionate, ethical, trustworthy, inter-personally skilled, patient, and emotionally stable. All of which are the primary traits of a therapist who can facilitate, grow, and maintain a healthy therapeutic relationship with their clients.
It is not so much the therapist’s intellectual knowledge of the psyche and human behavior that matters when it comes to the proper expression of the therapeutic process, rather it is based on the character of the individual therapist. The therapist’s inclinations towards behaviorism, freudian/psychodynamic/insight oriented theories, or cognitive and existential theories, are far less relevant to the resolution of presenting problems than the more innate abilities of a therapist as mentioned above. It is important for the client to be aware of the importance of these traits when seeking out/working with a therapist.
Not all people attracted to the field of psychology or mental health are suited for conducting therapy. Some people may be more suited to academia, research, or even public policy making. It is important for any therapist to “know thyself” so to speak, and determine if they really have what it takes to be a therapist. The same principles apply to any potential or current online therapist.
For the client, he or she must use their own discernment to determine if a potential or current therapist is someone they;
– Feel engaged with – do you get the sense that the therapist is solely focused on your well-being and is motivated to help and guide you? Do you sense that the therapist lacks focus, is more concerned about personal financial gain over your well-being? Or, for some other reason is not in engaged in the present moment with you, missing key points you make and not following up and discussing further those topics which you feel require more discussion? Do you sense the treatment has legitimate and expressed goal(s) to attaining resolution or does it seem to lack any real direction?
– Are you comfortable with the therapist? Do you find yourself; uncomfortable sharing any real personal information and expressing yourself emotionally? Do you feel the conversation in session(s) to be more superficial than truly insightful or engaging with the deeper aspects of yourself? – What is your sense of trust with the therapist? Do you have a burden of doubt with the therapists’ abilities and where the treatment is going? Can you comfortably express your concerns and doubts with the therapist or is there some fear of judgment from the therapist?
– Do you find the therapist comforting, empathic, and compassionate or is he or she emotionally stagnant or cold when working with you, not being responsive to your emotional and verbal expressions that may hold a strong value with you?
These questions highlights just a few important aspects within the therapeutic process which both client and therapist should be aware of. Furthermore, not every therapist is going to be suitable for every client and vice versa. It is important for both client and therapist to be aware of the strength of the relationship. If the therapeutic relationship is one which is not promoting well-being and the resolution of presenting problems and this becomes apparent, it must be discussed thoroughly in the session(s).
If such a relationship is deemed by both parties to unlikely come to fruition then it may be necessary to discuss possible termination of the therapy.
Termination in therapy is not a bad thing, it is done for the benefit of the client; whether it be a successful resolution or sharp improvement of the clients problems, if the process is actually becoming detrimental to the client, or even if the therapist comes to believe they are not suited to work with the client despite gains being made. Termination is a process that exists for the client to move forward, not backward.
Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon client and therapist, be it online or traditional therapy, to discuss the importance of a healthy working therapeutic relationship, especially in the beginning of therapy and to recognize the signs of a faltering one so that efforts can take place to remedy the situation for the betterment of the client.