Therapeutic Relationship in Counselling

Therapeutic Relationship in Counselling

The therapeutic relationship in counselling is also known as the therapeutic alliance. The term is used to identify how counsellors and clients connect with one another and build their relationship together.

The importance of the therapeutic relationship cannot be overlooked; it forms the foundation of all counselling work.

An image of a client talking to her counsellor shows their therapeutic relationship. The therapeutic relationship in counselling is how counsellors and clients connect with one another and build their relationship together.

How to build a therapeutic relationship

Evidence has shown that the therapeutic relationship is created through a shared feeling of:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Genuine care
  • Honesty

These key points can be linked directly to Carl Rogers’ core conditions.

In this article you will:

  • Define the therapeutic relationship in counselling.
  • Explore therapeutic relationship importance in counselling.
  • Highlight client and therapist relationship details.
  • Discuss barriers to therapeutic relationships in counselling and psychotherapy.

Defining the therapeutic relationship

The client and therapist relationship have been widely researched.  Evidence has shown that it forms the basis of success within counselling and psychotherapy.

The therapeutic relationship is fundamentally important to the counselling process.  It can enable confidence, reassurance, openness and honesty, paving the way for clients to accept themselves for who they are.

Therapeutic relationship importance in counselling

The therapeutic relationship begins from the moment the counsellor and client meet.

Upon first meeting, both people show who and how they are and are able to form an impression of ‘the other’.

Forming a solid relationship can empower clients to delve deeper into the issues they may be facing and ‘open up’ emotionally to the counsellor.

For some clients, this may be the first time that they have ever shared their innermost thoughts and experiences with another, outside of their immediate family or friends.  Indeed, it may be the first time they have shared anything about themselves at all.

Within therapeutic relationships, individuals can express themselves honestly and openly, without any immediate attachment or fear of judgement or rejection.

The client or therapist relationship is often different to any other, because of this.

Being a real and genuine person within the relationship can further enable work at relational depth.

Without a therapeutic relationship in counselling and psychotherapy, there would be no basis for work to take place.  It is vitally important in ensuring needs are met from the onset.

Barriers to therapeutic relationships

Barriers can occur within therapeutic relationships in counselling. These may include:

  • Counsellor not offering the core conditions.
  • Client not feeling in receipt of the core conditions.
  • Counsellor, client relationship having poor or no boundaries (overtly friendly, sexual advances, unprofessional etc).
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of psychological contact due to substance use, etc.
  • Previous trauma or attachment issues.

External barriers to therapeutic relationships

Relationships outside of the therapy room may impact upon the counsellor, client relationship. Transference and countertransference can play a significant part here.


A client forms a relationship with a counsellor who looks, speaks and acts similarly to a teacher they once had at school that caused them much distress.

As a result, they may react within this counselling relationship as if they were once again that pupil at school, interacting with that teacher.

This could impact the therapeutic relationship.

It is important for counsellors to recognise transference and work with it openly with clients.  A useful place for counsellors to work through issues relating to their own transference is in supervision.

Forming a therapeutic relationship is fundamentally important to the holistic process.  It can enable confidence, reassurance, openness and honesty, paving the way for clients to accept themselves for who they are.

It also ensures ethical, legal and professional processes are being adhered to.

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Therapeutic Relationship in Counselling


Barrett-Lennard, G. (1998) Carl Rogers’ Helping System Journey and Substance.  London: SAGE publications.

Feltham et al (2017) The SAGE Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy (4th Ed).  London:  SAGE publications.

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