Theoretical frameworks for understanding and investigating the therapeutic relationship in psychiatry
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Background: Mental health care is delivered through a relationship between a clinician and a patient. Although this therapeutic relationship is of central importance for mental health care, it appears to be relatively neglected in psychiatric research. Empirical research has for the most part adopted concepts and methods developed in psychotherapy and general medical practice. Hence, unpacking the presuppositions that have informed research on the therapeutic relationship to date may be a useful first step in developing this field. Method: A review of the literature was carried out. Results: Six central theories are identified as framing the definitions and methods on this topic: role theory, psychoanalysis, social constructionism, systems theory, social psychology and cognitive behaviourism. To date, role theory, psychoanalysis and systems theory appear to be the frameworks most often applied in research in this field. Each perspective offers a unique emphasis in the analysis of the therapeutic relationship, which is reflected in the empirical work from each perspective discussed herein. Conclusions: None of the theories identified have been fully specified and comprehensively investigated in psychiatric settings. However, more than one approach may be used for thinking about relationships, depending on the treatment situation. Further specification and testing of the theories in psychiatric practice – taking account of the specific context – is warranted to underpin more pragmatic research. A stronger link between fundamental psychological and sociological research and applied health care research would advance our understanding of which elements of positive therapeutic relationships are instrumental in improving patient outcome and ultimately contribute to improving mental health care.
KeywordsMental Health Care Care Research Improve Patient Outcome Social Constructionism Central Importance
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