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The therapeutic relationship in systemic therapy

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Antonia (Dona) Papastylianou (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3214-5373)
Antonia (Dona) Papastylianou


Τhis study aimed to examine the evolution of the therapeutic relationship in systemic therapy through the theoretical developments of systemic  thinking over the last few decades. In the first part, a historical overview of the de-personalized therapeutic relationship according to First Order Cybernetics perspective (from ‘50s to ‘70s) is presented, that proceeds to the therapeutic relationship with emotional disclosure in the 80s (Second Order Cybernetics) and the Constructivist position that allowed an engagement  in an ongoing relational process in therapy. Further, it traces the modifications of the therapeutic relationship through the post-modern developments; Social Constructionism, Reflexivity and Narrative therapy that allow therapist’s essential emotional involvement during co-construction of the meaning in psychotherapy, presents in brief  the "revolutionary" view of the theorist of the Open Dialogue (Seikkula, 2011), the Attachment Theory meta-model and the importance of secure attachment in therapeutic relationship. Throughout this review the issue of power imbalance in the therapeutic relationship is discussed, as this underlies the ideological debate of client’s resistance towards the therapist’s positions. In the second part, methodological approaches and psychometric tools regarding research for the documentation of the importance of the therapeutic relationship in systemic therapy are reviewed and research findings are presented concerning the prevailing factors in the therapeutic relationship from the client’s point of view. Finally, issues for further training and enhanced competence  of the therapist in order to response effectively to current social-cultural needs are highlighted.


therapeutic relationship; systemic psychotherapy; relational processes; systemic thought-theoretical developments; power imbalance in the therapeutic relationship


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