The Therapeutic Angle in Psychotherapy

Let’s revisit the therapist’s angle towards the affected person within the psychotherapy relationship.


The psychotherapy body refers back to the fundamental floor guidelines for psychotherapy: the angle of the therapist towards the affected person, boundaries, assembly preparations, and different contractual components of the psychotherapy relationship. It may be conceived of because the atmosphere and relationship wherein psychotherapy takes place. The late psychiatrist Robert Langs, MD, devoted a lot of his profession to the examine of the body, the upkeep of which he described because the therapist’s “most elementary area of intervention.”1

Up to now few many years, as psychotherapy has broadened past its psychoanalytic and psychodynamic origins, the idea of the body has change into much less recognized in psychotherapy coaching and observe. Certainly, many fashionable therapists have by no means heard the time period or, alternatively, view discussions of it as archaic and reflecting a bygone period of psychotherapy. This unlucky misunderstanding has led to a shift within the view of the psychotherapy relationship whereby, to borrow from Kernberg, many fashionable therapists “let all of it hang around”2 and undertake a theoretically unfastened or unprincipled stance. Such therapists might discuss themselves, give recommendation, or impose their private beliefs and worldviews onto sufferers.

Given these latest traits, it could be useful to revisit the idea of the body and, specifically, the therapist’s angle towards the affected person within the psychotherapy relationship. Such a dialogue could also be helpful not solely to psychotherapists, but in addition to psychiatrists who might discover worth in these concepts as they pertain to the psychiatric remedy setting.

The Angle of the Therapist

The fundamental angle of the psychotherapist towards the affected person represents a very powerful aspect of the psychotherapy body because it informs the therapist’s position within the remedy scenario. An understanding of the therapeutic angle yields details about different parts of the body, such because the institution of boundaries and assembly preparations.

The therapist is knowledgeable and skilled on the workings of the human thoughts who’s consulted by the affected person as a result of the affected person is having some issue of their expertise of life. At occasions, this is because of psychiatric dysfunction. The therapist should do not forget that their position is that of skilled or physician—not good friend or acquaintance. Though a liking for sufferers typically evolves through the course of psychotherapy, the psychotherapy relationship just isn’t a friendship. The therapist who seeks pals in psychotherapy might achieve this for quite a lot of causes: loneliness, a dissatisfying private life, or their very own pathological narcissism. The boundaries between therapist and affected person should be revered and the ability differential not ignored.

Most people who change into therapists are motivated by a need to assist others take care of the burdens of emotional despair. Though a need to assist is undoubtedly a obligatory trait in a psychotherapist, it has lengthy been acknowledged3,4 that the therapist should not have too nice a need to assist. The objective of psychotherapy is to assist the affected person free themselves from the constraints imposed on them by their conflicts, issues, and signs; it isn’t to assist by doing something to or for the affected person. To place it one other approach, in moral psychotherapy, the therapist should care about the affected person—not take care of them.

Langs, commenting on these concepts, writes that the therapist4:

“avoids being too supportive, as a result of he hopes not solely to supply sustaining assist but in addition, by his therapeutic angle of being nonjudgmental, noncondemning, nonsubmissive, nonanxious, noncontrolling, agency, constant, and sensible, to have a modifying impact on the affected person’s character. He is aware of that the fixed enjoying of the notice of supportiveness just isn’t sufficient. He is aware of, additional, {that a} too empathic or too profound sounding of this notice might infantilize the affected person.”

Maybe essentially the most harmful danger of psychotherapy is that the therapist will use the affected person as a software or instrument to gratify their very own narcissistic impulses. This may take many kinds, from gross boundary violations to extra delicate makes an attempt to influence, manipulate, and management, or to mannequin the affected person after oneself. The affected person’s autonomy—their proper to make their very own selections—should be accepted and guarded by the therapist. The affected person should be seen as an autonomous particular person—not an object to be mounted or managed. It has change into modern for some therapists to proffer in advice-giving. This observe is countertherapeutic and antithetical to psychotherapy; it infantilizes the affected person and promotes helplessness and passivity. It deprives the affected person of the very factor psychotherapy goals to supply: freedom.5

Freud, writing fantastically on this topic, displays, “We refused most emphatically to show a affected person who places himself into our fingers seeking assist into our non-public property, to determine his destiny for him, to power our personal beliefs upon him, and with the delight of a Creator to kind him in our personal picture and see that it’s good.”6

An important function of psychotherapy is therapeutic neutrality. What this implies is that the therapist maintains an observing stance in relation to the affected person and avoids taking sides with any the forces in battle within the affected person’s life. The explanation for that is that such a stance helps the affected person observe and mirror themselves and ultimately to unravel their very own issues. This doesn’t imply that the therapist is detached or clean; the notion of the “clean slate” therapist itself has at all times been considerably of a delusion. It must also be understood that absolute neutrality is unattainable, however the idea ought to information therapists of their interactions with sufferers.7

Psychotherapy is a contractual relationship. It’s basically the conserving of guarantees. The therapist guarantees the affected person to do sure issues (to investigate, to help in understanding, to supply a protected atmosphere), and people issues the therapist should do. The therapist additionally guarantees to not do sure issues (to talk to 3rd events, to moralize, to manage), and people issues the therapist should not do. It’s the contractual nature of the psychotherapy relationship that allows the opposite therapeutic work to happen, however the contract itself—and the therapist’s upkeep of it—is a major therapeutic intervention.

Concluding Ideas

The psychotherapist’s angle vis-à-vis the affected person represents a elementary, and at the moment underappreciated, aspect of the psychotherapy body. It’s the angle of the therapist that opens the door to good psychotherapeutic work; the therapist’s stance, too, is a key intervention, because it locations the affected person in an autonomous place and fosters introspection and self-initiated development. The therapist should be impartial however not detached; agency however not judgmental; heat and empathic however not overly concerned. They have to acknowledge that the best way to assist the affected person is thru exploration—not imposition. They should be and do all of this stuff, however above all, they need to respect the distinctiveness and creativity of the affected person as a person human being.


1. Langs R. A Primer of Psychotherapy. Gardner Press; 1988.

2. Rankin C. Otto Kernberg on Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. 2000. Accessed June 27, 2022. https://www.psychotherapy.internet/interview/otto-kernberg

3. Brenner C. An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis. Worldwide Universities Press; 1955.

4. Langs R. The Strategy of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Aronson; 1973.

5. Szasz T. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Fundamental Books; 1965.

6. Freud S. Traces of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Remedy. In: Strachey J, ed & trans. The Commonplace Version of the Full Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Hogarth Press; 1955.

7. Yeomans F, Caligor E. What’s neutrality in psychotherapy anyway? Psychiatric Information. June 1, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2022.

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