Power in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Rethinking the ‘Power-Differential’ Myth and Exploring the Moral, Ethical, Clinical, and Practice Issues of Power in Therapy

Online Course Materials:    ArticlesArticles    AudiosVideos   ArticlesArticles   

All materials are available as audios with transcripts.

Developed by Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

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Course fulfills the California and other states' ethics and law requirements. Course may qualify for insurance discount. Check with your insurer.

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This course is offered as part of a Boundaries in Psychotherapy Certificate Program of 57 CE Credit Hours.

General Course Description

This is probably the first course that is exclusively devoted to the exploration of the different aspects of power in psychotherapy and counseling. It explores the ethical and clinical issues involved in power in the therapeutic relationship and attends to some of the legal, moral and professional issues involved.

From the first day in graduate school all the way to post graduate ethics courses, psychotherapists and counselors have been instructed to pay great attention to the “inherent power differential in psychotherapy,” to be aware of the “imbalance of power between therapists and clients” and have been repeatedly told, “never abuse or exploit our vulnerable and dependent clients.” The view of power as an entity, possessed exclusively by powerful psychotherapists and counselors, has been generally unchallenged. Ethics texts and risk management advice columns have presented a similar unified message about therapists’ unilateral power and clients’ inherent vulnerability.

Many psychotherapy clients are, indeed, distressed, traumatized, anxious, depressed, young, impaired and vulnerable and can be easily influenced or controlled by their therapists. On the other hand, other clients are competent, strong, and authoritative and may be controlling. Many modern day consumers are highly informed and seek therapy to enhance the quality of their lives, improve their loving relationships or find meaning in their lives. They are neither depressed nor traumatized nor vulnerable. Yet, the myth of the power differential persists as if all clients are the same and all therapist-client relationships are duplicates of each other.

This intermediate-level course presents one of the most extensive analyses and critiques of the beliefs inherent in power differential and the claim that therapists’ power always lasts long after termination. It consists of 5 audios (text transcripts are provided for all audios) and one article. It critically reviews the prevalent belief that “Once a client, always a client.” After the extensive documentation of the different myths about power, the course explores the potential sources of such faulty generalizations. It then provides a rather complex view of power in therapy and details how therapists and clients are vested with different forms of power. Next, the course looks at the diverse ways that therapists attempt to bolster their power over their clients. The last several sections of the course discuss situations where the power differential is valid and applicable, and the ethical implications of the analysis provided in this paper. Finally, it proposes new ways to view power relationships in psychotherapy that are realistic to the field of therapy and counseling, respectful and honoring to clients, and, most importantly, can help increase therapeutic effectiveness. Additional resources and references are provided for further study, but they are not part of the course.

Educational Objectives:

    This course will teach the participant to

  • Appraise the universality of the belief in the therapist-client power differential.
  • Compare different clinical theoretical orientations on power in therapy.
  • Differentiate between different types of therapist and client power.
  • Evaluate the scientific basis of the belief in therapists’ omnipotence.
  • Outline the ethics complexities involved in power in therapy and offer ethical ways to think of power in psychotherapy and counseling.
  • Recommend ways for therapists to integrate a sophisticated view of power into their practices.

Course Syllabus:

A more detailed course syllabus

  • Overview of Postmodernism
  • The Myth of Power-Differential
  • Power in Perpetuity: Once a Client, Always a Client
  • Clients Come in All Shapes and Forms (of Power)
  • Client Power as Portrayed in the Movies
  • The Origin of the Myth, “Inherent Power Differential”
  • Types of Power in Psychotherapy
    1. Legitimate Power
    2. Expert-Knowledge power
    3. Professionalism-Clout power
    4. Positional or Role power
    5. Knowledge-Discrepanc
    6. Coercive power
    7. Reward power
    8. Reference power
    9. Manipulative power
  • How Psychotherapists Create Power Advantage
    • Lack of transparency & disclosure
    • Setting the stage (Office)
    • Misuse of the term “resistance”
    • View clients as victims
    • Power to name
    • Isolating clients
    • “For your own good”
    • Meta communications
  • When Power-Differential is Relevant and Valid
  • How Power May Shift During Therapy
  • Modern Clients as Consumers
  • What is Power?
  • Power in Psychotherapy and Counseling
    • Denial of power issues by clinicians
    • Exaggerated view of power by ethicists
    • Theoretical orientations on therapist-client power
  • The Ethical Way: Ethical Principles and Power
  • Towards a New View of Power in Psychotherapy
CE Badge Created with Sketch. 6 CE

Cost: $59.00

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