Working together

By John McLeod

I think it is important to be very careful around describing pluralistic therapy as ‘client-lead’. This is not wrong, but neither is it sufficient. It is correct in that pluralistic therapy is based on an assumption that to be human is to have sense of directionality (or agency, purposefulness, intentionality, being on a journey, becoming, striving, possessing goals, pursuing projects, etc, etc).

Therapy can then be seen as an activity that helps a person who has become stuck, to resume their journey. But the process of therapy, that enables this to happen, depends on a process of working together. Within this process, there are times when the client leads and times when the therapist leads, and some other times when something magical occurs that arises from creating something new between you.

Being a pluralistic therapist involves having a lot of sensitivity to the dynamics of what it is like to be constantly shifting between leading, following and doing together. I do not think that current ideas about the client-therapist relationship adequately describe what this is like. This is partially because the English language does not have many words for talking about doing things together. It is also because therapy theory is still predominantly written from a point of view of an expert agentic therapist doing something to a client/recipient.

In recent years, a better understanding of the client as an active co-creator of therapy has been available, from the writing of Art Bohart and from qualitative studies of client experience. However, these insights have so far not fed through into therapy theory, practice and training. I believe that what characterises good pluralistic therapy is a sense of something being made/created together.