The Role of the Counseling Relationship in Solving Conflict

I have a couple sitting in front of me. They are on opposite ends of the couch, bodies turned away from each other, arms crossed. I know they both love each other and want to stay together, but right now they are in a painful, difficult place. Both people feel they have compromised too much, and that they are unable to bend anymore. Both people feel wronged and are waiting for the other person to make amends.

This situation happens throughout our lives in many different forms. A parent and a teenager are constantly battling. Staff members and the boss can’t agree on how to do business. A small disagreement in a community organization turns into an all-out war with people taking sides.

The field of psychology offers a seemingly endless supply of solutions for people in conflict, depending on the theoretical point of view. A Psychodynamic counselor might look to the past for similar conflict patterns. They believe that by repairing the original pattern of conflict, healing will occur in the present. Behavioral counselors could suggest exploring the current disagreement moment by moment and determining which actions need to be changed. In replacing harmful behaviors with healthy ones, change will come about. Multicultural and Feminist counselors might dissect the power dynamics of the relationship and offer insight into the societal patterns that have influenced the disagreement. These counselors believe education and awareness can create change.

So how did this couple even get to my couch, with all these choices? Across theoretical orientations, the psychology research points to one primary factor in creating change: the relationship between the counselor and client. The debates and studies over techniques and theories will continue indefinitely, but for people ready for change the connection created in the counseling office will always be waiting.