The Therapeutic Relationship

Stef Wood


The I-Thou Approach to Counselling

The I-Thou relationship is an important process in dialogic theory. Engagement in the I-Thou relationship constitutes the participation of both the therapist and client in collaboration with one another to promote and enhance the therapeutic alliance. Using collaboration, we are able to minimize the power hierarchy within the therapeutic relationship and thus, we are able to build a strong therapeutic foundation. Additionally, engaging in I-thou interaction reduces preconceived notions that develop from the initial assessment of a client.

 Carl Rogers denotes that it is the intention that each client is viewed not merely as the sum of their parts, but as an entire entity. Roger’s view on the therapeutic environment has evolved throughout his career however, he expressed that the relationship between client and therapist is characterized by congruence along with other core contingencies. Congruence is marked by the therapists realistic and stable nature which involves being open to every aspect of their own experience with a willingness to relate and communicate. Furthermore, an ongoing and continual effort is instilled to value one’s client in a comprehensive and non-judgmental manner (Woods, 2014). The I-Thou relationship within the client-centred approach, premises the client’s rights to autonomy, and self-determination. Understanding client worldview by validating their emotions, provides a platform from which the therapist can provide support in a reassuring and supportive manner. 

Martin Buber’s theory of communication states that the dialogue shared between client and therapist, instills a sense of mutual respect due to the understanding that the other person is similar to themselves. The dialogue is also premised on genuine, non-judgmental interest in the other person’s worldview which the application thereof, has the potential to foster acceptance, validation, rapport and mutual exploration (Amari, 2020). Coinciding with Roger’s theory, Buber indicates that this transaction provides a unique aspect which includes remaining rooted in one’s own experience (Buber et al., 1997). 


The Application of I-Thou in Counselling

The pursuit of the I-Thou relationship delivers the key elements for efficacious counselling. Centred within the humanistic orientation, the I- thou relationship can be observed as the aspect of significance in a therapeutic alliance. The clinician’s groundedness in their own experience and thus, self-disclosure of this, can serve to balance the hierarchical relationship and validate the client’s experiences (Collins,2018). Formulating a working alliance not only strives to achieve intentional attunement purposed to facilitate change, but also will differentiate the therapeutic relationship from typical relationships due to the multidimensional emotional depth (Collins, 2018). The intention is not to impose our values and behaviours on our clients for purposes of positive consequence, but to actively facilitate emotional safety within the working alliance. This, in turn, will assist us in fostering the client’s self-determination and empowerment to utilize self-regulatory skills in times of distress. Authenticating the client’s presenting concerns allow for a supportive and empathetic environment, which is a versatile approach to client incongruence. This paradigm suggests that individuals are the most capable of creatively accessing their own resources when they engage in a therapeutic relationship that offers a warm environment, congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy (Raskin, et al, 2019).



The I-thou approach is based upon the core concept that individuals have internal resources to engage ineffective change however, when the core conditions such as positive regard, integration and empathy are facilitated in a sufficient and effective manner, it will bring about effective change (Rogers, 2007). This self-directed theory allows for efficient self-regulation and self-acceptance. Adhering to the I-Thou methodology is a valid and empirically tested method that can offer healing and profound change through a variety of different capacities. 



Amari, N. (2020). Counseling psychology practice as the pursuit of the I–Thou relationship. The Humanistic Psychologist, 48(4), 410.

Buber, M., Cissna, K. N., Rogers,C. R., Anderson, R., & Cissna, K. N. (1997). The Martin Buber-Carl Rogers dialogue: A new transcript with commentary. SUNY Press.

Collins, S. (Ed.). (2018).Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology. Counselling Concepts.

Raskin, N. J., Rogers, C. R.,& Witty, M. C. (2019). Client-centered therapy. In D. Wedding & R. J.Corsini (Eds.), Current psychotherapies (11th ed.) pp. 101-156. Boston, MA: Cengage.

Rogers, C. R. (2007). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Psychotherapy:Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 44(3), 240-248. Retrieved from,cookie,ip,uid&db=pdh&AN=2007-14639-002

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