The therapeutic relationship in child psychotherapy: integrating the perspectives of children, parents and therapists

Psychother Res. 2021 Nov;31(8):988-1000. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2021.1876946. Epub 2021 Jan 28.


This study addresses the therapeutic relationship in child psychotherapy, through an exploration of the experience of the main actors engaged in child psychotherapy.

To describe and analyse the therapeutic relationship integrating the views of children, parents and therapists.

This study employs a qualitative methodology, assuming a discovery-oriented approach which draws from grounded theory. Twelve psychotherapy triads participated, composed of children aged 6-10, their parents and psychotherapists. Semi-structured follow-up interviews were conducted (N=36), including a drawing in the case of the children.

A positive therapeutic relationship with children and parents was viewed as a gradually constructed process, based on a positive emotional encounter between participants. It was facilitated primarily by the therapist's commitment and playful stance, the child and therapist mutual involvement, and the parent's collaboration. These aspects entailed a trustful, validating and caring relationship, that shaped children and parents' motivations towards therapy and facilitated change.

From a multiple-perspective approach, therapy was conceived as a relational experience. The development of positive relationships required different and evolving dispositions from therapy main actors. Therapists' genuine feelings and engagement in therapeutic activity seem central, underlining the importance of addressing relational aspects in child therapy research and training.

Keywords: child therapy; multiple perspectives; qualitative methods; therapeutic alliance; therapeutic relationship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Parents*
  • Psychotherapists
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Qualitative Research