Practicum Monday: Is conflict necessary in therapy?

In the latest edition of the Journal of Counseling Psychology (55:2, 172-184), Nelson, Barnes, Evans, and Triggiano have published an article on the inevitable conflict between supervisor and supervisee–what leads to it, how supervisors react to it as well as supervisor strategies for managing it.

But, these lines about therapy caught my eye:

It is likely that conflict is as difficult to manage in supervision as it is in psychotherapy. Yet addressing conflicts successfully can be a healing and educational venture. The work of “tear and repair” in therapeutic relationships suggested by Safran (1993) and Safran and Murran (1996, 2000) is thought to be critical to optimal outcome in psychotherapy. The capacity of therapeutic relationships to recover from relationship breaches is thought to enhance client trust that relationships can survive misunderstandings and disagreements as well as client confidence that he or she can successfully resolve them. A skillful therapist can guide a client through the process of accepting the therapist’s inevitable fallibility, thus enhancing client capacity to accept his or her own… (172)

What do you think? Is conflict necessary for healing? I think yes. Otherwise, the client and the therapist idealize each other and so become blind to reality.

However, not all relationship breaches are good and we don’t always respond well to them, making matters worse.

How do you feel about conflict with your clients? With your counselor?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, conflicts, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology

6 responses to “Practicum Monday: Is conflict necessary in therapy?

  1. Conflict is inevitable and there is no getting away from the human condition, even in a carefully controlled counseling environment. Perhaps especially so in a counseling environment.

    I see clarification as a necessary tool in any relationship. We’re continually redefining ourselves in life and in a therapeutic relationship. We give ourselves and our clients room to breathe, develop, and explore.

    FYI, I’m working on my masters in counseling psychology in Washington state. I enjoy your blog.

  2. Pingback: Let’s Play Tag… « Atypical Musings

  3. Amy

    Phil, I just want to let you know that I “tagged” you because I thought it would be amusing. 🙂

  4. Scott Knapp, MS

    Counseling my clientèle almost requires some form of conflict and subsequent resolution. I’m presently working with emotionally and behaviorally problematic children and youth. Most are used to experiencing relationships in one of two ways: temporarily useful and thus harmonious, or typically chaotic and damaging and thus to be avoided. One teenage boy I’m working with has probably experienced for the first time in his life, a relationship with a strong, moral man (me, of course), who remains engaged with him while at the same time establishes limits and enforces consequences for relational breach. He’s pulled out almost all of his past warped relational coping strategies to manipulate our relationship into functioning according to his “rules of engagement” and he’s been greatly frustrated at times, because I’m simply not willing to cooperate! It’s blowing his circuits in a healthy way to find I also don’t run from him in disgust or rage, either, which is typical for most people he tests in this way. I think that part of my role as his therapist is to offer him a taste of healthy relationship, to prove that conflict can be experienced and overcome in a non-lethal manner, and that taking the risk of investing one’s self in healthy relating is worth it. This is essentially the same type of transcendence that Christ had to use on me to bring me to Himself, and I, in turn, extend the same grace to my client. I think that’s how I share in the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10), in that I must endure a form of personal loss and sacrifice in order to extend an offering of relationship to someone who has the full capacity to not only turn me down and away, but also to “punish” me for making the offer, and exposing the longings/need for what I offer, in the first place. “Consider it all joy….”

  5. Yes, yes and YES! In fact, “lack of conflict” is what almost ruined my marriage! As funny as that sounds – because I would use manipulation to get through a situation – rather than sharing my heart – it caused a great deal of bitterness and anger in my marriage…on both sides. It seemed odd to me that fighting and conflict could actually help a marriage grow and flourish. Thankfully, the counselor we saw taught us how to communicate in a God-honoring way that would allow us freedom to share our hearts – even if it meant a brief season of conflict!

    Great post!

  6. Lynn

    I agree. Before seeing my current counsellor (at the strong urging of my medic friends), I had kind of “written off” counselling as effective therapy for my depression. I had then already tried counselling several times but never went back the the therapists after the first sessions. I felt they had been over-sympathetic and it felt …well…fake. The one thing I really appreciate about my current counsellor is his straight-talking approach (of course he does it with tact). If I disagree with him, we would discuss the issues and try to understand our differing perspectives. The disagreements and conflicts we had led to trust and and allows him to help me work through various difficult issues. In fact, I find conflicts with my counsellor actually helps me understand myself better.

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