Relational Therapy

Relational therapy is a therapeutic approach that was founded on the belief that a person must have fulfilling and satisfying relationships with the people around them in order to be emotionally healthy. Relational therapy handles emotional and psychological distress by looking at the client’s patterns of behavior and experiences in interpersonal relationships, taking social factors, such as race, class, culture, and gender, into account. Relational therapy can be useful in the treatment of many issues, but is especially successful when working with individuals seeking to address long-term emotional distress, particularly when that distress related to relationships. Relational therapy will help clients learn skills to create and maintain healthy relationships. Think this approach might be right for you? Reach out to one of TherapyDen’s relational therapy experts today.

Meet the specialists

Relational therapy is founded in the belief that healing happens in the context of relationships with one another. This approach to treatment is based in strengths-based empowerment. Exploring your wants and needs in the relationships around you, as well as your relationships with yourself. Increasing connection with yourself and others can be profoundly transformative.

— Kian Leggett, Associate Clinical Social Worker in Tacoma, WA

As humans, we need and exist in relationships; to others, to the environment, to ourselves. I believe that one of the most important aspects of my work with clients is developing a strong relationship based around safety and expression and use these experiences in therapy to help people understand the ways in which they relate to other aspects of their lives.

— Cayla Panitz, Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR

Just as the patterns that hold you back were wired within your earliest relationships, they only transform when met with gentleness and care. Understanding the neuroscience of relationship can help you understand and transform your challenges.

— Marc Otto, Creative Art Therapist in Portland, OR

I chose a relationship and family therapy focus in my studies, and understand most healing occurs in relationships. We internalize others' messages, beliefs, and build our inner world based on interactions. Sometimes our inner world or the way we interact needs to be restructured for us to develop fully or live in a way that feels healthy and satisfying. The therapy relationship can be an effective place to work on making changes.

— Leah Gregory, Counselor in Portland, OR

Relational therapy, sometimes referred to as relational-cultural therapy, is a therapeutic approach based on the idea that mutually satisfying relationships with others are necessary for one's emotional well-being

— Elise Horwich, Marriage & Family Therapist in Tarzana, CA

I believe the therapeutic relationship to be the crux of our work together. I am committed to building trust between us and will utilize our relationship to understand how you show up in your life. To that end, I will show up as a real person who responds to you in real time. We will also explore your relational patterns throughout your life to form more secure, healthier connections in the future.

— Laurel Meng, Psychotherapist in Chicago, IL

Human beings are wired for social connection. In order to feel good about ourselves and our lives we need to have good relationships with others. If we are depressed or anxious, inevitably it can be traced back to tension or breakdowns in relationships, or an inability to connect. Thus, the relationship between client and therapist is paramount to serve as a model that clients can use when building relationships outside of the therapy.

— Canh Tran, Associate Clinical Social Worker in Seattle, WA

The relationship you have with your psychotherapist is often indicative of how you relate outside of the therapy office. Similar patterns and projections arise -- we use the therapeutic relationship as a way of exploring your core needs and past traumas, and ultimately as a form of healing.

— Jeffrey Kishner, Mental Health Counselor in New York, NY

My supervision at Core Psychotherapy focused on relational psychoanalytic psychotherapy. I work with defenses, transference, and countertransference to help uncover relational patterns that may have been helpful in the past, but are no longer.

— Ian Felton, Licensed Professional Counselor in Minneapolis, MN

My understanding of wounding is this simple: All healing happens in relationship because all wounding happens in relationship. Ruptures can be devastating. Repair is possible.

— Emily Howard, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

A relational approach to therapy means that I will operate as an active participant in your therapy. The foundation of this work is the relationship between you and I and the dynamics that manifest during our sessions as they illuminate and relate to your other relationships. I often use the immediacy of the therapeutic relationship with the goal of increasing awareness and discovering previously hidden processes and beliefs that undermine well-being.

— Matthew Beeble, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Vancouver, WA

I believe modeling healthy people-skills is an important aspect of my role. The stuffy, overly clinical approach isn't what you'll find when sitting together.

— Dustin Hodgkin, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Olympia, WA

With the advent of the women's rights movement, the field of psychodynamic therapy began to evolve. Critiques of psychotherapy being male-dominate and centered around male perspective initiated the field of relational therapy. Relational therapy centers the relationship between client and therapist as the primary source of healing. It seeks to be collaborative rather than the orientation of the therapist being either a blank slate or an expert in the room. Relational therapy invites the therapist to be warm, authentic and empathic, while noticing and reflecting the client's patterns around connection and disconnection. It has also evolved to include aspects of culture, race, gender, class and sexual orientation as issues that may come up for healing in the therapeutic relationship.

— Addie Liechty, Clinical Social Worker in Oakland, CA

Relationships are potent places for us to repeat old, painful patterns or break free and create newer, healthier ways of interacting. Many of us have been hurt in relationships (family, friends, colleagues, romantic partners, etc). In therapy, the unique relationship we create together can help heal the residual wounds. It can also provide an update for what it feels like to show up as our authentic selves and be listened to, cared for, and respected, so we can take this new experience out into the world to create and sustain meaningful connections that feel aligned for us.

— Jessica Weikers, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

In order to feel good about ourselves and our lives we need to have good relationships with others. Connection matters, disconnection leads to distress, authenticity is key, and the past informs the present. If we are depressed or anxious, inevitably it can be traced back to tension or breakdowns in relationships, or an inability to connect. Explores how your background and past experiences are causing you to relate to others in unhelpful ways that leave you unhappy.

— Canh Tran, Associate Clinical Social Worker in Seattle, WA

As humans, we are relational by nature. The relationships we have affect our health and well being. It is also important to have a good relationship with ourselves. The therapeutic relationship can be one of healing and growth that will affect all other relationships in your life.

— Allison Rice, Counselor in San Luis Obispo, CA

Working together on a level playing field, we will locate and identify your internal wisdom and the organic intelligence hidden in your body and your psyche. I believe that each of us has a hidden guide, or “breadcrumb trail” which we can follow into the forest of the unconscious. Much of our therapy process together will consist of us finding this internal, intuitive guide and discovering where you want to go next in your life.

— Connor Moss, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in Oakland, CA

The relationships we have with ourselves and the important people in our lives are the cornerstones of our emotional health. From infancy and onward, how others see us and how we see them profoundly impact our sense of safety, curiosity, and agency. A relational therapy framework allows us to better see the patterns that play out in various areas of your life so that we can understand why they exist and open up new possibilities.

— Liz Gustafson, Psychologist in Los Angeles, CA

When it comes to long-term, sustainable change, therapy is one of the most effective forms of treatment. In part, because you no longer have to navigate the darkness alone. The therapy relationship is one of the most important factors for change. Yes, even more than specific modalities at times and there is ample evidence to support this. As humans, we have evolved to withstand life’s inherent traumas through interdependency. Not codependency. Interdependency. We thrive, as humans, when we can rely on and support others. And we learn how to support ourselves and others through the kind of support we’ve received. In an ideal world we would feel all our feelings and let those feelings guide us in a regulated and attuned manner. This is what healthy functioning looks like (despite cultural norms around emotions). However, we get stuck when we are left alone with unbearable emotions. This can lead to mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and the like. When left alone with unbearable emotions, we adapt in ways that may serve us in the moment, but may not be the best in the long run. For example, we may avoid feelings altogether, pick fights with our partners, become a workaholic, turn toward alcohol or other substances, etc. You get the picture. In therapy, we create a relationship (a unique one at that!) to help you bring those feelings up to be safely experienced and now responded to in the way(s) you needed before. With compassion, empathy, sincere belief, and support. This is how we release the past and free ourselves from having to “manage” all the freaking time.

— Natalia Amari, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Austin, TX