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  • Writer's pictureRyan Witkowski

Do You Like Your Therapist?: Exploring how relationships heal

In the nuanced field of psychotherapy, the intricate dynamics of the therapist-client relationship emerge as the cornerstone upon which effective treatment is built. This relationship transcends the mere application of techniques and methodologies; it is the very essence of therapeutic transformation. At it’s heart, therapy is an experiential journey where clients explore their innermost selves in the presence of a therapist who not only listens but truly understands, emphasizes and meets the client where they are.

Carl Rogers, a pioneer of humanistic psychology, introduced the concept of unconditional positive regard, which remains a fundamental tenet of effective therapy. Rogers posited that for therapy to be successful, therapists must offer an environment of genuine acceptance and non-judgmental support. This stance encourages clients to open up and share their true feelings without fear of rejection or condemnation. It is in this unique therapeutic space that clients feel safe to confront and explore their vulnerabilities.

Attunement and Attachment Therapy

The quality of the therapist-client relationship is the factor that best predicts positive outcomes in therapy. That is to say that movement in therapy is grounded in the belief that healing arises from an effectively engaged exploration of the self, particularly through the relational experience with the therapist. For many therapies the therapist's role is to help clients access and process previously defended against emotions, negative beliefs and hurtful memories thus fostering transformative experiences.

Central to many therapeutic models that prioritize the therapeutic alliance, is the practice of attuning to the client. Emotional attunement involves the therapist being not only present with the client but also deeply connected to their emotional fluctuations and expressions. This synchronized connection enables the therapist to tailor their responses and interventions in a manner that resonates with the client’s immediate emotional needs.

The process of attunement and relational work often brings to light the underlying relational patterns that shape how clients interact with others in their lives. Within the safety of the therapeutic relationship, clients can explore these patterns as they manifest in real-time with the therapist.

Such exploration is invaluable, as it offers clients a lived experience of being understood and related to in new and healing ways. This aspect of therapy is particularly corrective and empowering for those who have never felt truly listened to or valued in their interpersonal relationships outside of therapy. Attunement is not just a clinical technique but a vital component of healing as a whole person. And the experience of attunement is one that starts at birth and through childhood when a caretaker is able to mirror and emphasize with the varying emotional states of a child, thus validating their experience and allowing them to integrate particular emotions. In therapy,here here  this process involves recognizing the subtle cues and signals that reflect the client’s internal experiences and responding to them in a way that communicates understanding, acceptance, and validation and thus leads the client to internal acceptance and validation of parts of themselves. Doing so, may allow a client to, in the moment, experience  corrective emotional experiences through the therapeutic relationship which then translates to increased emotional/nervous system regulation and behaviors outside of therapy. Ultimately the practice of attunement helps address the root causes of distress, which are often linked to earlier relational traumas and unmet emotional needs.It is through  empathetic engagement that therapy can transcend the traditional boundaries of clinical treatment, offering a profound and life-altering journey towards wholeness and well-being.

Why is Attachment so Important in Therapy?

What all this points to is the importance of attachment, as first introduced by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1960’s.  Attachment and attachment theory explain that the degree to which we attach (attune) to our primary caregivers influences the quality of our adult relationships and even beliefs we have about ourselves. While nobody is strictly one attachment style all the time with every person, we aways possess a foundation of attachment style that can range from securely attached, avoidant, anxious, or anxious-avoidant. Many of the ways we hurt, struggle and suffer can often be traced back to the effects of attachment. As human beings the quality of our lives is greatly dependent on the quality of our attachments. Therapy and the therapeutic process works in part to grow and heal the attachment style that often leaves us longing for something else or something more in life.

The therapeutic alliance is strengthened through ongoing assessments of how each party perceives and experiences their interaction. This continuous feedback mechanism is crucial for maintaining the health of the therapeutic relationship and allows for experiential and often healing attunement in the relationship. The work of this process does not just fall on to the shoulders of the client either. The therapist must actively and mindfully tend to their own authentic somatic and emotional reactions in order to foster an attuned connection and when possible use this as a moment to connect more deeply through compassion.. That is to say that the therapist holds that any and every emotion the client presents is there because it is supposed to be there, pleasant or unpleasant. There are no wrong emotions or expressions as they are all valid internal communications. As the relationship strengthens so does a client's ability and trust to take more chances with vulnerability and authenticity.

To learn more about your attachment style and to take our attachment quiz to find out what yours is, go here.

What Else Makes Therapy Effective?

In terms of setting expectations, successful therapy also hinges on clear communication between therapist and client regarding the goals and potential outcomes of the therapeutic process. This clarity not only helps manage expectations but also supports the client’s engagement and motivation throughout the course of therapy. By discussing what is being aimed for and the means to achieve it, clients are better prepared to participate actively in their healing journey. One will find that the direction and objectives of therapy can often change as treatment progresses. As this process plays out it is imperative that therapist and client align and agree on how goals may have changed or taken a completely different direction.

The essence of psychotherapy lies in the transformative power of the therapeutic relationship. It is through this profound connection that therapy moves beyond mere intervention to become a healing relational experience guided by principles such as unconditional positive regard, therapeutic alliance, attunement and tending to the clients' moment to moment inner experience. While other aspects of therapy like the type of clinical interventions, therapy modality and education among other things are critically important, all of those components lose their effectiveness if a solid client-therapist alliance is not formed.

So perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself as you ponder your time in therapy and how it's going is; Do I like my therapist?

So, do you?


At Root Counseling, we specialize in C-PTSD and attachment issues. We operate from an attachment-based lens and focus on attunement in the therapeutic setting. To learn more about our therapists, you can do so here.

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