Petruska Clarkson – 5 Relationship Model

Petruska Clarkson – The Five-Relationship Model


Petruska Clarkson was a psychologist and psychotherapist who made significant contributions to the field of psychotherapy. She was born in South Africa in 1947, and in 1976 moved to the United Kingdom, where she trained and worked as a psychotherapist. Clarkson died by suicide in Amsterdam in 2006.

Petruska Clarkson

She is perhaps best known for her work on the therapeutic relationship, her ideas on which were groundbreaking at the time and have had a lasting impact on the field of psychotherapy. In addition to her clinical work, Clarkson was a prolific author, publishing numerous books and articles on psychotherapy and psychology.

Clarkson made a presentation entitled ‘A Global Vision: Taking Gestalt Therapy into the 21st Century’ at the first International Gestalt Conference in 1996 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She wrote extensively, particularly on the therapeutic relationship, and also co-founded the Metanoia Institute.


The five-relationship model is based on the philosophical idea of intersubjectivity – the shared understanding and mutual engagement that occurs when two or more individuals interact with each other. It involves the sharing of subjective experiences and the co-creation of meaning and understanding through communication and empathy. In other words, intersubjectivity is the process by which people come to understand each other's perspectives and experiences, and how this mutual understanding influences their interactions and relationships.

This concept is important in many disciplines, including philosophy, psychology and sociology, as it helps to explain how people are able to communicate and connect with each other on a deeper level.


Components of the Therapeutic Relationship

Clarkson described the therapeutic relationship as having five essential modes:

  • The working alliance – In order for therapy to be useful to the client, a working alliance must first be established. This involves cooperation between the client and therapist, enabling the two parties to work together. Elements of the working alliance include the contract, the presenting issues, and sometimes a realisation and acceptance by both parties that in other circumstances they may not choose to be in each other’s company.
  • The transferential/countertransferential relationship – This mode is ‘the experience of unconscious wishes and fears transferred on to or into the therapeutic relationship’ (Clarkson, 2003, p. 62). It is a key part of the psychoanalytic modality, where it is considered an essential part of the analytic process. The transference is invited and then gradually dissolved through interpretation.
  • The reparative/developmentally-needed relationship – This describes the therapist intentionally serving the role of a ‘parent figure’ to support them during therapy. It is most likely to occur when the client’s original experience of parenting was problematic – for example, abusive or overprotective. Over time, the client begins to trust their own judgement and their need for emotional support from the therapist reduces.
  • The person-to-person relationship – Counselling and psychotherapy rely to a great extent on building a human connection with clients, where a deep level of trust can be established. While this concept today spans many modalities, it is a particular focus in humanistic approaches, drawing on Carl Rogers’ work (1957). It also relates to the work of Buber (1970), who referred to the I–Thou relationship, which he differentiated from the I–It relationship.
  • The transpersonal relationship – ‘The transpersonal relationship is the timeless facet of the psychotherapeutic relationship, which is impossible to describe, but refers to the spiritual dimension of the healing relationship’ (Clarkson, 2003, p. 187). This may include an expansion of consciousness, which can be healing.


Application of the Five-Relationship Model

Clarkson's five-relationship model has had a significant impact on the field of psychotherapy, and has broad applications in various therapeutic settings. The model emphasises the importance of the therapeutic relationship as a crucial factor in the healing process. By delineating the different types of relationships that can occur within therapy, it gives therapists a comprehensive framework to understand and navigate the complexities of the therapist–client dynamic.

For example, the working alliance highlights the collaborative aspect of therapy, in which the therapist and client work together toward common goals. Meanwhile, the transference/countertransference relationship draws attention to the unconscious processes that can influence the therapeutic relationship. The reparative/developmentally needed relationship emphasises the potential for healing past traumas and developmental deficits within the therapeutic relationship. The person-to-person relationship highlights the importance of genuine human connection in therapy. And – last but not least – the transpersonal relationship introduces a spiritual dimension to the therapeutic relationship, acknowledging the potential for transcending the self in the process of healing and growth.

In addition to psychotherapy, Clarkson's model can be applied in various other helping professions and contexts where interpersonal relationships play a key role in facilitating positive change and growth.

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Student’s Guide to Applying the 5-Stage Model to Practice


Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou. US: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Clarkson, P. (2003). The Therapeutic Relationship. 2nd ed. London: Whurr.

Clarkson, P. (1996). A Global Vision: Taking Gestalt Therapy into the 21st Century [online]. The Gestalt Therapy Page. [Viewed 27/10/23]. Available from:

Rogers, C. R. (1957). The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21, 95–103.