Psychotherapy Articles

Psychotherapy Articles

Thoughts About Relating to Clients in an Atheoretical Way

This author’s article titled Two Aspects Are Preventing Psychotherapy from Being More Effective was posted on the SAP website in 2022. The first aspect proposed that psychotherapy does not have an effective enough of an understanding of its subject matter. This author further proposed that (a) the typical client’s presenting problem has (until shown otherwise) a psychogenic origin and (b) that experience as it is understood by that person is the core of psychotherapy. In this scenario, the client’s experiencing is understood in an atheoretical way. That requires the therapist to interact with the client in terms of skilled intuition (Khaneman & Klein, 2009), or the earlier, similar conceptualization of tacit knowing(Polanyi, 1967).

Here is a description of this author’s experience when he is relating to a client in an atheoretical way. His conscious focus is split between (a) listening to the client’s words and observing the associated nonverbal cues and (b) taking note of his own implicit experiencing that is being triggered by the above stimuli emanating from the client.

In this endeavor, empathy is understood as at least the unconditional acceptance of the client’s explicit experiencing, and, if applicable, as an invitation for that person to say more about the implicit, or the not-yet-verbalized, aspect of their experiencing.

In regard to the historical understanding of empathy, consider Rogers’ (1957) description of empathy as “…the client’s awareness of his own experience” (p. 99). Some years later, Rogers (1975) added a further clarification to this earlier understanding, i.e., “…true empathy is always free of any evaluative or diagnostic quality” (pp. 6–7), and where, in this author’s estimation, the meaning of “evaluative” and “diagnostic” is any frame of reference other than that of the client’s for understanding that person’s experiencing.

The second aspect of this author’s article above presented a way of differentiating between a therapeutic and a nontherapeutic emotional release. The concept of therapeutic catharsis (Von Glahn, 2018) is based on the assumption that there exists an inherent healing process for what this author has termed, if only for heuristic purposes, a psychological “injury.” When the client has received sufficient support for their overall experiencing, their emotional experiencing spontaneously arises in an unforced way. Of critical importance here is the therapist’s nonverbal behavior; i.e., does their facial expression, tone of voice, posture, eye contact, etc. at least support, if not increase, the effect of their words?

The forced activation of emotional experiencing occurs when an unexpected stimulus activates unresolved psychologically hurtful experiences. This occurrence is usually referred to as “re-traumatization” (For a more complete understanding of that term, see the author’s article above.).

Here is another example of the therapist providing sufficient support for the client’s experiencing (See the author’s article above for other examples).

A 40-year-old man requested therapy at his physician’s suggestion as medication for his depression of several months’ duration seemed ineffective. Four months ago, he had lost his position as a mid-level supervisor at a manufacturing plant he had worked at for 20 years. He did not appear to me as “clinically depressed” as he seemed quite responsive to my empathetic responses to whatever he talked about.

Toward the end of the next session, he spoke for the first time about his evaluations with his supervisors, and especially with the last one. In those meetings, he always spoke highly of his supervisees’ accomplishments, and, for whatever reason, left out his guidance/helpful input. Then, and with more animation in his voice, he declared, “I wish I could redo my last evaluation.”  Upon my saying, and with some enthusiasm, “What would you do different?’ he promptly turned to an empty chair and spoke for about a half-minute in a forthright manner to his “supervisor.”

A few days later, his wife called me and spoke about the marked difference in his acting confidently, a change she had “always hoped for.” At his next session, he spoke about his new found confidence for about 15 minutes, thanked me for my help, and left.


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Cite This Article

Von Glahn, J. (2023, April). Thoughts About Relating to Clients in an Atheoretical Way. [Web article]. Retrieved from


Khaneman, D. & Klein, G. (2009). Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree. American Psychologist, 64(6): 515-526. doi: 10.1037/a0016755.

Polanyi. M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension. Doubleday.

Rogers, C. R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2), 95–103 doi: 10.1037/h0045357

Von Glahn, J. (2018). Operationalizing the actualizing tendency. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 17:1,37-53, doi: 10.1080/14779757.2017.1397050


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