What Is Relational Self-Psychology?

Relational psychotherapy is not entirely new, for it’s roots are in psychodynamic and humanistic therapies that have been around for many years. But at the same time, relational psychotherapy, understood in it’s own terms, is a new phenomenon. Over the last 15 years, a relational perspective has opened up new vistas for psychoanalytic theory.

Relational psychotherapy is a model driven by the client’s experience and the client’s needs. It pays close attention to how these needs are understood and addressed within the therapy relationship. The relational therapist tunes in very carefully to all of the client’s experience, and especially to the client’s ongoing, moment-to-moment, and cumulative experience of therapy. Since relational psychotherapy is so client-centered and experience-near the relational therapist is always personally engaged in the process of therapy. Empathy is central to relational psychotherapy and therapists have a strong commitment to understanding the client on her/his own terms. The therapist will stay as close as possible to what the client says about their own experience and the therapist will do what ever they can to enter into the feeling of that experience and to communicate empathy to the client in ways that let them know you get it. This can build a deep trust between client and therapist which allows for more specific kinds of interventions.

The problems we all have exist in those places where the outside, significant people in our lives and situations, interacts with our inside responses. As we grown up these interact to shape a sense of ‘ourselves’. This interaction between ‘ourselves’ and others become encoded within us in what we call ‘organizing principles’ – these are assumptions and ways of interacting that have become so part of us that we don’t even realize that’s how we are operating. These patterns quickly become woven into the interaction between the therapist and client. It’s noticing these patterns as they emerge that’s fundamental to the assessment and treatment. These patterns can become gently uncovered and understood so that a healing and shifting can take place. Once this healing and shifting takes place the ways people interact with and see others changes and a new deeper truer self emerges.