There has been some recent argument against the current understanding of the place of relationships in psychotherapy. While most theories argue that relationships are important or even essential to good mental health, other theorists claim that the way relationships are conceptualized in these theories is insufficient (Slife & Wiggins, 2009). Most of these theories conceptualize the individuals first, and then talk about the way these individuals relate. Relationships are often understood as two or more independent self-contained individuals interacting (Slife & Wiggins, 2009). An alternative way to look at relationships is offered by relational psychoanalysts and other theorists, though again it should be noted that there is a great variety in the conceptualization of what makes a theory relational (Wachtel, 2008). Slife & Wiggins (2009) claim that “All things, events, and places are first relationships – already and always related to one another” (p. 18). Mitchel (2004) explains that we are not self-contained minds, but rather we are constantly connected and potentially connected to others in our context. In fact even what we consider to be our private internal conversations are based on relational language. Family therapies, though they vary widely and are often less relational than the previous theorists would like, still place the importance of interpersonal problems above any individual concerns by taking the family as a system into account (Carr, 2012). The interpersonal nature of problems can also extend out of the family itself to include friends, extended family, schools and other social forces (Fishman & Fishman, 2003).
The question then, becomes why this type of relationality is better than the traditional, individual-first relationality. I would first argue that the relational way of being is a more realistic account of how we are in the world. Further, a full relationality is important because it also allows us to focus on the highest goods in life that include friendship, justice, kindness, love and knowledge which cannot effectively pursued in a non-relational way. It takes two friends actively being friends to each other for the relational good of friendship to occur (Fowers, 2005). In real life there is no taking turns in “doing” friendship between friends because it is a shared good.
When a client attends individual therapy, the focus is traditionally on the client and their...