Smith, Vicki J (2010) The power of relational work in existential therapy. In: BACP's 20th Annual Research Conference: "Researching the Special Relationship", 16th-17th May 2014, London, UK.

The power of relational work in existential therapy

Aim/Purpose: This paper aims to present some preliminary findings from a PhD research study focusing on how existential therapists define and convey their role as therapists, with a particular emphasis on the therapeutic relationship. According to Spinelli (2007) one of the key underlying principles of existential therapy is relatedness, such that we can only make sense of ourselves through our relationships with others and the meanings that emerge between people. This paper aims to focus on how existential therapists conceptualise and use relatedness in their work with clients.

Design/Methodology: Thirty UK existential therapists with entries on professional body websites were contacted by email. One man and four women agreed to participate and were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. Following transcription, the data was analysed using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) leading to identification of some initial themes focusing on aspects of the therapeutic relationship.

Results/Findings: All therapists emphasised working relationally and made insightful connections between philosophical concepts such as ‘authenticity' and ‘not knowing' and rich examples of how such concepts can influence practice. This included sharing with the client what was going on between them ‘in the room', which was regarded as one of the most powerful tools of therapy. Overall, the research concluded that the participants share a common and distinct vision in terms of working relationally, which, whilst recognised as one of the most challenging aspects of the therapeutic endeavour, may dramatically enhance the psychological growth of both client and therapist.

Research Limitations: The data discussed is based on preliminary findings during the initial phase of a PhD research project. The sample is small at this stage; further data will be collected as the project continues.

Conclusions/Implications: The findings suggest that existential therapists regard working relationally, in an existential sense, as a powerful tool central to their therapeutic practice. Although it is too early to identify specific implications for practice, this paper will also argue that existential relatedness could potentially enhance therapists' professional practice and development.

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