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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Katz, Psy.D

Three Defining Qualities of the Therapeutic Agreement

When we are unsure of the agreements in a relationship, we get bored.

Therapy should not be boring.

Therapy is the journey of you discovering yourself; and no one in their authentic expression is truly boring.

Boredom comes from disconnection.

We disconnect as an intelligent, protective response to feeling unsafe. It can happen within one’s self, as it does between the mind and the emotions or the mind and the body, and it can happen between people. Boredom occurs as a result of lack of safety in a relationship, whatever that relationship is between.

So, clear agreements that bring connection are a gold mine for aliveness and effectiveness in a relationship. Connection is the antidote to boredom and the catalyst to aliveness.

Betty Martin does a great job of helping to define agreements through her work in the Wheel of Consent. In her view, relationship agreements require an active role and passive role. Within those roles, there are options for being the giver or receiver, resulting in four roles: active receiver, active giver, passive receiver, and passive giver.

Her work usually refers to consent as it pertains to touch. Because there is no touch in the therapeutic setting, we easily substitute touch for focus, safety, and self.

1. The therapist is the giver

In playing the role as the giver of focus, the therapist is responsible for attuning to the client. This means that the client’s felt sensations, emotions and thoughts are the guiding force for the session.

The therapist as a giver of safety means they are responsible for providing proper boundaries and generous non-judgment for the client to freely unfold with the least amount of concern for danger in their environment as possible. Safety helps the nervous system regulate and healing to take place.

With safety securely in place, therapists can be givers of their selves. They bring to the table their own felt experience of the session, curiosity and perspectives. This is why picking a therapist who truly feels like a good match for you is so valuable.

2. The client is the receiver

In the therapeutic relationship, the work is always for the benefit of the client, putting them in the role of the receiver.

Being the receiver in the therapeutic setting means the client is invited to authentically express what they need and feel with no responsibility for the well-being of the therapist. This can feel unnatural to those who haven’t had much practice. This agreement in itself can be rich grounds for exploring the ways the client relates to the world outside of therapy.

What areas in your life are you able to receive easily and which areas feel difficult to receive?

3. The process of the client primarily holds the active role

Human psyches are naturally active. We are internally processing in our mind, body and emotions constantly. It is up to the process of the client where the exploration goes and what results are pursued.

The times the active role is passed to the therapist is when, as the giver, the therapist must intervene due to a shift in focus or safety wavering off-course.

For clients who feel stuck in their process, taking the active role can feel scary or futile. However, in practice, the gift of focus, safety and self tend to be catalyst enough to propel the client along their process.

Much rich work comes from even simply entering into a therapeutic agreement, as it is a unique relationship lending a specific healing. As the inner process of the client unfolds in this context, it is seen, known and reflected by another human being, which is an incredibly connecting and therefore, alive experience.

Veronica is a therapist because she loves the healing journey and believes relationship is the most powerful catalyst along the way. She cares deeply about body awareness and the activation of personal empowerment through desire and creativity. She works with adolescents, adults, and couples who are ready for change. This may be readiness to begin a process of grieving, integrate past trauma, step into a new aspect of self, or various other elements of change.

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