Relational Therapy

Relational therapy is a type of talk therapy that allows people to work closely with their therapist to improve their relationships and overall mental health.

What is relational therapy?

Relational therapy focuses on how a person’s relationships can impact their well-being. Sometimes referred to as relational-cultural therapy or relational psychotherapy, relational therapy is based on the concept that maintaining balanced and fulfilling relationships with other people can contribute to better emotional health. 

Relational therapy is designed to help people learn how to build supportive, respectful, and lasting relationships—starting with a strong connection between them and their relational therapist. It offers teens and young adults a chance to understand how their past experiences may be preventing them from creating healthy relationships and provides the skills to improve their existing relationships.

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How does relational therapy work?

One of the primary goals of relational therapy is to help people feel connected and understood by creating a trusting, empathetic therapeutic relationship. During a session, a relational therapist will listen to a person’s past experiences and memories in order to better understand how they impact their current ability to form meaningful relationships.

Benefits of relational therapy

When successful, a relational approach to therapy can provide the following benefits:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved emotional wellbeing 
  • Reduced conflict or communication issues with partners, family, and friends
  • Reduced stress or anxiety at work
  • Better understanding of relationship patterns 
  • Confidence to build more meaningful relationships
  • Decreased symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues

How does relational therapy differ from other therapies?

Relational therapy was coined by psychiatrist and relational therapist Dr. Jean Baker Miller in the 1970’s. Although there’s limited scientific research published on relational therapy, it’s based on several well-known theories such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy.

Similar to other forms of talk therapy, relational therapy can be used to help people understand how their past experiences affect the way they currently think, act, and pursue relationships.  Relational therapists will also sometimes utilize relational psychoanalysis to dive even deeper into the ways clients build and maintain relationships. At the same time, there are several distinct elements that relational therapy apart from other forms of therapy.

A teen and her mom participate in virtual relational therapy

Relational therapy:

  • Emphasizes the client-therapist relationship (sometimes referred to as the therapeutic alliance)
  • Considers social and cultural factors, such as a person’s race, gender, sexuality, social economic class, and politics
  • Draws a connection between a person’s ability to connect with others and how they handle stress and anxiety

Who should try relational therapy?

Relational therapy can benefit teens and young adults for a variety of reasons, but it seems to be particularly useful for people who struggle to maintain healthy relationships. It’s also used to help treat symptoms of the following mental health conditions:

Additionally, relational therapy is considered to be an effective form of therapy for people with medical conditions. It’s specifically used to help people learn how to navigate the relationships with doctors, nurses, and their care team, as well as conveying sensitive information to family.

Conversely, relational therapy is not the best fit for people with avoidant personality disorder or people who are resistant to treatment.  

Other forms of talk therapy

Interested in therapy but not sure if relational therapy is right for you? Acknowledging that you might need mental health support is the first (and often the hardest) step. From there, a member of Charlie Health’s Care Team can help you create a treatment plan that’s right for you and your specific needs.

Other types of therapy to consider include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

One of the most commonly used forms of therapy, CBT is often used to treat the thoughts and behaviors contributing to a variety of mental health issues—such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Using individual therapy, group skills training, and ongoing coaching, DBT helps to improve interpersonal relationships through validation and behavior changes.

Attachment based family therapy (ABFT)

This form of therapy supports adolescents and their families who are interested in decreasing family conflict, repairing family relationships, and improving overall mental health and wellbeing.

Relational therapy at Charlie Health 

Charlie Health is committed to creating a multi-pronged approach to helping teens and young adults overcome their mental health struggles. Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) uses a combination of individual therapy, supported groups, and family therapy to comprehensively treat people struggling with mental health issues. 

If you’re interested in working with a therapist to create more meaningful relationships or improve your overall mental wellness, reach out today to learn if relational therapy is right for you. Our Admissions Team is available 24/7 to listen to your needs and answer any questions.

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