The whole of the psychotherapeutic enterprise rests on the psychotherapeutic relationship. It strikes me that attempts to describe or define it have to overcome the difficulty that this mostly subconscious process takes place in private settings. Who is in a position to observe it? For this reason I intend to investigate it largely on the basis of my own personal experience, and using clues and pointers from others that ring true to me.
My first observation is that the psychotherapeutic relationship belongs to the class of human relationships that we call conversation, using this to include both verbal and non-verbal transactions. Here we can make use of the valuable observations of Theodore Zeldin. From Zeldin I draw a clear distinction between genuine and false conversation. In the genuine conversation each party enters in a generous spirit, prepared to emerge from the process having learned from it, having been altered. The fences are down; one is willingly risking that one may be wrong or mistaken, and may have one’s views transformed.
Conversation loses its genuine function when a power play is operating. This neurotic pseudo conversation is exemplified to comic effect in the one-upmanship books of the humorist Stephen Potter.
When the sufferer, client, analysand, patient, comes to psychotherapy, he is thirsty for genuine conversation but expecting to be thwarted, as his experience and his world view instructs him.
The psychotherapeutic relationship is a conversation in which power play is negated and a generous engagement in the sufferer’s interest on the part of the psychotherapist is felt by the sufferer. For this to be possible it is obvious that two conditions must be met: Firstly, the psychotherapist has to be capable of setting aside or overcoming any need on his part of showing or feeling superiority. Secondly, the psychotherapist has to demonstrate that the sufferer’s interests are paramount. Both these conditions must be met and be genuinely felt.
By negating the struggle for power the psychotherapist models a way of conversing, which opens up a dispassionate search for truth.