The therapeutic relationship: Research and theory
An introduction to the Special Issue
ADAM O. HORVATH
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
(Received 16 November 2004; revised 7 December 2004; accepted 8 December 2004)
The place of the therapeutic relationship in psychotherapy research is presented in a historical framework, followed by abrief review of the major research themes within this topic and a review of what is covered in this special section. Some of thestrengths of this body of work, as well as the potential challenges arising out of the re-emergence of the alliance as a pan-theoretical concept capturing the relational dynamics of therapy, are discussed. Recommendations for renewing theempirical
conceptual dialogue on what constitutes the therapeutic relationship in different therapeutic contexts anddifferent phases of therapy are provided.
Therapeutic relationship, alliance, therapy process research
Research on the relationship in therapy
The dedication of a special issue of
to the topic of the therapeutic relationshipmarksasignificantmilepostinthehistoryofempiricalresearch on psychotherapy process. The editors’decisionto devotethis extended format tothe topic issymbolicofagrowingrecognitionofthematurityandvalueofthisbodyofwork.Thispresentsanimportantopportunitytoshowcaseanewgenerationofscientificinquiries highlighting some of the issues challengingthoseofuswhodesiretomovetheempiricalinvestiga-tionoftherelationalaspectofpsychotherapyforward.As a framework for this overview of the currentrelationship research agenda, thehistorical context of thisbodyofresearchwillbebrieflyreviewed,followedby a summary of the empirical investigations of thealliance in psychotherapy in the past three decades,andmorespecificallyinthisspecialsection.Finally,thechallengeslyingaheadarediscussed.
The relationship between therapist and client hashistorically occupied a prominent role in the theoriesof therapeutic process. In a brief paper, Freud laidthe foundation of what would be later elaborated asthe concept of the alliance by noting the importanceof the development of ‘‘the [patient]
. . .
. . .
to the doctor
. . .
and link [him] withimages of people by whom he was accustomed tobe treated with affections’’ (Freud, 1913). WhileFreud’s insights have done much to enable thesystematic investigation of mental processes, by thebeginning of the nineteenth century it becameapparent that if psychotherapy was to become a‘‘scientifically based profession’’, it needed a theorythat could generate robust, refutable, hypotheses.The challenge of developing an empirically testa-ble model of human change was first taken up by thebehaviorists (Skinner, 1974). The advantages andopportunities offered by a model based on observa-ble behaviors were significant. However, excludingall phenomena beyond that which could be observedand verified at the time meant that not only thetherapy relationship, but cognitive processes as wellwere moved beyond the domain of empirical re-search. By the middle of the twentieth century,technological innovations made it possible and
Correspondence: Adam O. Horvath, Counselling Psychology Program, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Way, Burnaby, BC,V5A 1S6. E-mail: email@example.com
, January 2005; 15(1
ISSN 1050-3307 print/ISSN 1468-4381 online
2005 Society for Psychotherapy ResearchDOI: 10.1080/10503300512331339143