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Therapists' experiences of relational depth: a qualitative interview study

Cooper, Mick (2005) Therapists' experiences of relational depth: a qualitative interview study. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 5 (2). pp. 87-95. ISSN 1473-3145

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Abstract

The aim of this study was to explore therapists' experiences of meeting their clients at a level of 'relational depth'. This was defined as a feeling of profound contact and engagement with another, in which the therapists experienced high levels of empathy, acceptance and transparency towards their clients, and experienced their clients as acknowledging their empathy and acceptance in a genuine way. Participants were primarily experienced person-centred therapists, five of whom were female and three of whom were male. Data was gathered through the use of qualitative, unstructured interviews within the broader framework of a person-centred and phenomenological methodology. All interviewees described experiencing moments of relational depth with their clients, and substantial commonalities emerged in their descriptions. These included heightened feelings of empathy, acceptance and receptivity towards their clients; powerful feelings of immersion in the therapeutic work; increased perceptual clarity; and greater levels of awareness, aliveness and satisfaction. At these times, the therapists also experienced their clients as highly transparent; articulating core concerns and issues; and reciprocating the therapist's acknowledgement of them in a flowing, bi-directional encounter. These findings are discussed in relation to recent research on 'presence' and 'flow' and it is proposed that relational depth can be conceptualised as a form of 'co-presence' or a co-experiencing of the person-centred 'core conditions'. Limitations of the study and areas for further research are discussed.