I use Relational-Cultural Theory as the guiding principle in my practice.
Relational-Cultural Theory is the work of Jean Baker Miller, M.D. and her colleagues, Judith V. Jordan, Ph.D., Irene Stiver, Ph.D., and Janet Surrey, Ph.D. The fundamental premise of Relational Cultural Theory (RCT) is that relationships are the central organizing feature of a person’s development and that a healthy sense of self develops within *growth fostering relationships. From within this relational model we understand that the yearning for genuine connection is seen as basic to life, and that a great deal of pain results from chronic disconnection. In general, of course, relationships go through an ebb and flow of emotional connection and disconnection. On the one hand, disconnections can be viewed as an inevitable part of relationships in that they are a signal to attend to something in the relationship. Learning ways to move ourselves back into connection can lead us to an even deeper level of understanding and growth. On the other hand, chronic disconnections leave people feeling isolated and excluded, and this often leads to depression, confusion, low self worth and withdrawal.
Characteristics of Growth Fostering Relationships:
Engagement: Wholeheartedly being present with and caring about the other person. Listening to the other person with curiosity, not judgment. Valuing and wanting to be a part of the other’s world.
Empathy: Listening to, feeling with and joining the other’s world. Understanding the other’s experience. It is not just about being nice, but rather putting oneself in another person’s place and really feeling with them. Appreciating their journey to a particular feeling and thought. Responding in a way that resonates with their experience.
Mutual Empathy: Being emotionally touched by each other. This communicates that the other person matters and is of value.
Authenticity: An honest expression of needs and feelings, while also paying attention to the impact of this expression on the other person. Thoughtful balancing of one’s needs and those of the other.
Mutuality: Affecting another person and being open to being impacted by the other. Mutual respect, sharing, initiative, and responsiveness.
Diversity: Learning from and embracing one another’s differences.
Empowerment and Mutual Empowerment: A relational form of power that is not power-over the other or one that is focused on winning. Instead, the relationship enhances the strength and courage of each person and the community.
Jean Baker Miller describes five good things that can happen when we are in growth fostering relationships:
Each person feels a greater sense of zest, vitality and energy.
Each person feels more able to act and does act.
Each person has a more accurate picture of oneself, the other person and the relationship.
Each person feels a greater sense of worth.
Each person feels more connected to the other person and has a greater motivation for connections with other people beyond those in this specific relationship.