Psychotherapy study develops a new way to measure relationship quality in counselling

  • Friday, March 22, 2019

A new scale has been developed to measure a vital quality of therapeutic relationships, “relational depth”, which is associated with positive effects on clients’ mental health.

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This scale called the Relational Depth Frequency Scale can be used to study whether the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client leads to improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and other positive outcomes in counselling and psychotherapy.  Dr Gina Di Malta from the Department of Psychology at the University of Roehampton, Professor Chris Evans from the University of Sheffield, and Professor Mick Cooper from the University of Roehampton have recently published an article where they describe the scale’s development.

Professor Dave Mearns and Professor Mick Cooper first defined relational depth as “a state of profound contact and engagement between two people, where each person is fully real with the other and able to understand and value the other’s experiences at a high level.”

Research suggests that this quality of the relationship between client and therapist can occur in well-defined, significant moments where the client may have the ability to see their issues more clearly. This experience causes a shift in ‘mind set’ and awareness. This relationship between client and therapist is built on genuine acceptance, empathy, and respect. Researchers hypothesize that this quality of the relationship will correlate with the relieving of psychological distress. 

Dr Gina Di Malta said “This study helps to support the development of evidence that relational depth is associated with significant improvements in a client’s symptoms. It opens avenues for a new field of psychotherapy based on depth of relating between the client and therapist”.

In this study, “Three-Step Test Interviews” were conducted with eight therapists and clients and sixteen relational depth items—such as “We were deeply connected to one another” and “We were immersed in the present moment”—were taken forward for psychometric assessment with over five hundred therapists and clients in the UK. Further research will be needed to examine the validity and acceptability of the relational depth frequency scale in clinical settings.

To read the full article entitled Development and validation of the relational depth frequency scale, please click here.

The scale is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence, and available to download freely here.

The Department of Psychology offers an undergraduate course in Psychology and Counselling and a professional doctorate in Counselling Psychology.