Perhaps you have heard of collaborative therapy or a counselor working from a “collaborative perspective” but feel unsure of what that means.  Since all of our therapist’s here at Marriage & Family Counseling Center operate within a collaborative framework, I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts about what this perspective entails. The idea of the collaborative perspective was developed by Harlene Anderson from her work as a therapist when she realized she wanted to better understand why therapy worked for some but not others. She combined her informal research and dialogue with postmodern theory and found that the implementation of an egalitarian point of view, the idea that all people are equal, deserve equal treatment, rights, and opportunities, was paramount to the success of therapy sessions, and so the idea of a collaborative perspective was born.

The Two Principles 

This perspective works off two key principles;

  1. A trusting dialogue between counselor and client promotes growth and learning through language and knowledge.  As counselor and client’s language and knowledge change so might the dialogue and therapeutic strategies addressed in session.  Basically, as the client grows and learns about themselves or their concerns so will the dialogue between counselor and client.
  2. Understanding that there is no single way to see a problem or solution.  The client’s perspective, expertise, and understanding are critical when developing and establishing therapeutic treatment strategies.

The Vital Skills 

A counselor utilizing a collaborative perspective will use skills like active listening, questioning, and non-verbal communication. Active listening is when a person solely focuses on a speaker and can paraphrase or summarize the speaker’s message.  Questioning is another skill utilized and is used to explore, understand, clarify, or transform and could be used to deepen understanding and transformations.  A counselor using a collaborative perspective will view the client as the expert in their life and perspective.  The counselor may also use verbal or non-verbal communication to better understand the client’s perspective and behaviors.  Pauses or silences are used to allow clients time to think, reflect, relax, or form appropriate or best fitting dialogue.

But even before many of these skills are introduced, the counselor and client will work towards building a therapeutic and trusting relationship.  Developing a trusting relationship with the counselor is a priority in the first stages of counseling.  Once this is established the counselor may gently and carefully challenge clients to guide them in understanding other viewpoints of a situation.

Working Together for Change

A collaborative perspective can help clients to transform their perspectives on concerns or challenges they might have while engaging in a trusting and therapeutic rapport with the counselor.  When clients transform their perspective on a given issue the counselor and client can then work together to develop more positive or adaptive ways to engage with the issue.  Counselor and client may establish client values to better guide adaptive behaviors and thoughts.  This helps to ensure that the client is acting in ways that align with their idea life. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the counselor will incorporate various treatment and therapeutic strategies to better tailor counseling services to you as the client.  This means a counselor may use a variety of therapeutic theories and strategies to help clients reach their counseling goals.

A collaborative approach to therapy can give clients a deeper meaning and understanding of themselves, their lives, and any challenges that might be standing in their way. Ultimately, it puts clients in the driver’s seat of their own therapy sessions.

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