The Real Relationship: An Idea to Support Collaborative Practice

Gelso, C.J. (2011). The Real Relationship in Psychotherapy: The Hidden Foundation of Change, Washington D.C.:APA (

Most human practices, like management or education, have a social interactive foundation.  (Managers manage and collaborate with people and educators guide their development.)  Consequently the insights of psychotherapy, the most studied of all interactive processes, are usually very relevant; as is this book.  Gelso’s premise is that a tripartite relational foundation underlies successful therapeutic change: (1)The working relationship (agreements instrumental to completing the task at hand), (2) transference [“a client’s experience of the therapist that is shaped by the client’s own psychological (and social historical based) structure”] and counter-transference (the effect of the therapist’s psychological and social historical based structure), and (3) the real relationship.  He defines the real relationships as:

(T)he personal relationship existing between two or more persons as reflected in the degree to which each is genuine with the other and perceives and experiences the other in ways that befit the other.  . . . In the strongest real relationships persons communicator genuinely with one another, and are willing to let themselves be known deeply, and perceive and experience the other realistically, to an important extent (p. 58).  . . . the theory is bidirectional and represents a two person psychology (p.60).

This makes sense to me.  We have very nuanced relational capabilities and we need to seek collaborative relationships that maximize people’s potential, not seek simple command and control structures that have been shown to be inadequate.  This fits in with the ideas in the real relationship.

Gelso sees the strengthening of the real relationship as involving disclosure (he says relevance is more important than the amount of disclosure) and empathy.  The real relation is presented as critical, but it exist alongside the other two and does not necessarily subsume the other two.  To me this means that:

  1. You need to agree on and clarify your purpose for working together.
  2. You need to be careful regarding your own biases and what you project onto others.
  3. But, success in working with others may depend on putting together a deeper dialogue and relationship.

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