Petruska Clarkson – 5 Relationship Model

On the 21st of May 2006, Petruska Clarkson, who developed the 5 relationship model, died alone in a hotel room in Amsterdam. She was 58 years old when she took her own life.

Born in South Africa, she came to England in 1976 and became an authoritative voice in the world of psychotherapy, specifically developing a European perspective of Gestalt therapy.

Clarkson wrote an article for the Gestalt Journal based upon a presentation she made at the first International Gestalt Conference in 1996 in Cambridge, Massachusetts sponsored by the Gestalt Journal.

Petruska Clarkson

The presentation, entitled “A Global Vision: Taking Gestalt Therapy into the 21st Century”, brought together delegates and presenters from across the globe that reviewed and explored views of Gestalt therapy. Clarkson also co-founded two training organisations, the Metonia Institute and Physis.

One of Clarkson's many lasting contributions to the world of psychotherapy is her thesis on human relationships, known as the “The 5 relationship model’. It is based on the philosophical idea of  Intersubjectivity, described by the Merrian Webster Dictionary as"involving or occurring between separate and conscious minds". 

The Five Phases of a Relationship

(1) The working alliance

This is the basis of the client–therapist relationship that enables both the client and the therapist to work together and would include such things as the contract, the presenting issues and maybe a realisation of both parties that in other circumstances they may not choose to be in each other’s company.

This first stage is very much about building a shared understanding and a foundation, so if the relationship falters, both parties can return to the contract and try to repair the therapeutic alliance.. this is known as a reparative phase.

(2) The transferential/ countertransferential relationship

Most of us have at some time or another met a person for the first time and found ourselves either strongly attracted or repelled by them.

This strong feeling is sometimes rooted in ‘The presenting past ‘also known as ‘transference’ the idea that the client reminds us of someone from our past and as such we ‘transfer’ those feelings from the past on to the client.

Therapists need to be vigilant of this, if they feel irritated by a client they need to explore in supervision where this comes from, as there is a possibility that reacting to the client as they would a person from their past, this is known as  ‘counter-transference’, it  is unfair and possibly emotionally damaging for the client .

(3) The reparative/ developmentally needed relationship

Many clients come to see therapists as the ‘good enough other’ the idea that at some level they emotionally  take on the therapist as a ‘parent figure’ to support them during the personal growth that hopefully takes place during therapy, Clarkson described this as:

“The developmentally needed or reparative relationship is an intentional provision by the psychotherapist of a corrective, reparative, or replenishing relationship or action where the original parenting was deficient, abusive or overprotective” (Clarkson 2003:113).

Given time the client begins to trust their own judgment and the need to use the therapist as an emotional support reduce, at this point therapy usually comes to an end.

(4) 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 is established, this transcends any modality,  this is seen to a great extent in the work of Carl Rogers.

Rogers describes the core conditions of Empathy, Congruence and Unconditional positive regard, as the foundations of building an interpersonal alliance between two people.  In terms of “The 5 relationship model,’ the therapist would use these conditions to facilitate the ongoing encounter with the client.

The person-to-person relationship is the core or real emotional connection – as opposed to a professional relationship with say your doctor or dentist.

Research by and Affleck (1961); Sloane, Staples, Cristol, Yorkston and Whipple (1975) have all shown that it is significant to the client that there be a real relationship from within which environment the therapists can use whatever modality of therapy she or he is trained in.

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

 (5) The transpersonal relationship

This is harder to define in absolute terms; it can include an expansion of consciousness, which can be spiritual or healing.

Perhaps one way of describing it is the feeling you have after going to a concert you enjoyed or a really special evening with friends.

A feeling of spiritual connection was described by Clarkson herself as:

“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, P 2003:187).

Watch this video for further information.

This model is useful for sustaining other relationships. Thinking about this model, consider how you form and sustain your own relationships either personally or professionally.

The model is also the basis of some integrative psychotherapy models.