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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Guest Post: Carl Newsham reviews Relational Depth: New Perspectives and Developments

I took delivery of my brand new copy of this title on the day of release a few weeks ago (07/01/13) after pre-ordering on the back of an e-mail prompt from Amazon. As I was the first to receive it, and John (my tutor) is busy marking our latest round of assignments! I am offered the opportunity to review the book for inclusion on this page, a privilege indeed!

I first came across the notion of Relational Depth in the 3rd edition of Mearns and Thorne’s Person-Centred Counselling in Action (2008) which led me to Mearns and Cooper’s Working at relational depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2005) which is, up to now, the only complete book fully dedicated to the phenomena as named.

Relational depth is described most succinctly as “a state of profound contact and engagement between two people, in which each person is fully real with the Other, and able to understand and value the Other’s experience at a high level.” (Mearns & Cooper 2005). This is to say that it can be experienced by anyone in any relationship providing the right conditions and sufficient depth is present. But what are the right conditions? What amount of depth is sufficient? And, can anyone really say what relational depth actually is? In terms of the therapeutic relationship; can relational depth be measured? Can a therapist do anything to encourage the phenomena to emerge in session? And, how is it perceived as valuable by the client in therapy? This is a collection of recent studies, experiences and essays based around the concept of relational depth which attempt to explore the subject further.

Divided into three parts, the book groups together an eclectic mix of reflections, suggested techniques and related perspectives to inform us of the state of current thinking about and practice uses of the topic. Part 1 begins with each author describing an actual moment of relational depth from practice; this really brings the book to life: case examples are more meaningful to me than a description of what I have referred to earlier as a notion. I found passages here that I could relate to from my own practice and from this chapter onwards I felt part of the team, comfortable in the knowledge that I had known relational depth personally. Part one moves away from the softly-softly approach from chapter two onwards with a study by Rosanne Knox focusing on the clients perspective of relational depth complete with flow-charts concluding that the impact of relational depth on the client can alter the feeling of isolation and facilitate movement towards re-connection with the self within the client. Chapter four introduces the Relational Depth Inventory (RDI) as proposed and researched by Sue Wiggins, a concept so brave I actually had to read the chapter a few times! To create a psychological measure for such a concept is akin to counting raindrops, I do marvel at finalised 24 item questionnaire produced from the study, I want to know more. Mick Cooper rounds off part one with a precautionary discussion about trying to capture empirical data from such a holistic and complex phenomena should we, as humanistic therapists, be happy for relational depth to remain elusive and in the moment.

Part two moves on to looking at relational depth in context moving back to the various author’s areas of expertise using real examples from the therapy room. Sue Hawkins explores the concept of it in therapeutic relationships with children and young adults, people whose use of language as a means of expression is as yet under-developed, relying on the unspoken elements of communication. Further chapters look at relational depth in groups and in supervision. The recurring themes in this part really underline the importance of relationship in therapy and the provision of Rogers’ ‘core conditions’ (1951). The essential nature of positive regard, acceptance or Thorne’s ‘tenderness’ (1991) in creating the right environment for relational depth to occur really shines through sending this reader back to basics for a re-cap.

The final part of the book is a collection of related perspectives to the central theme beginning in chapter 12 with a philological look at the language of the Person-Centred Approach by Peter F. Schmid arguing that the essence of person-centeredness is dialogical, bringing a balance to the book overall as previous chapters very much lean towards the unspoken aspects that are and surround relational depth. Further chapters discuss therapeutic presence and mutuality as a foundation for relational depth in turn both discussing the underlying construct of the therapeutic relationship. 

In conclusion, the book presents a very modern look at a very old concept. The chapters are tight, concise and relevant to any practising therapist in today’s fast-paced society. For students I would say this is a must and will be due to appear on a reading list near you very soon! It is refreshing to find expert insight such as this in such a friendly format.

Carl Newsham is studying Counselling with Brief Interventions at the University Centre at Blackburn College and is a trainee counsellor specialising in the person centred approach with clients living with drug and alcohol dependency issues.


  1. Great blog post! The book sounds intriguing. I'm not sure that relational depth can be learned. I think that it is a way of being that can be honed. I love this subject; for me this is where the real power of the therapeutic relationship lies, and is very different to the reductionist effect of 'techniques'.
    One day we'll be able to measure the resonance that occurs with connection. I don't need to measure it. When it's there it's practically palpable, almost magical. But culturally we are required to measure in order to justify. I have learned to describe my work with counselling/psycho language, but what I am offering is myself, my respect and love for all mankind, my authentic feedback and my ability to desire, connect with and understand my fellow humans' experience of existence.
    I have just booked a place on a day with Mick Cooper on relational depth in my hometown (Exeter) in June.
    Thanks for the review. I shall certainly be acquiring this book.

  2. Slight typo, which I put down to my new IPad: ability AND desire to connect with...

  3. I partly agree with you Amanda. I think there is a place for the use of techniques and I'm OK with symptom relief; but as I found out again today when seeing an old client, often those symptoms return in the the same form or in different forms, and maybe there are underlying issues that need to be uncovered, voiced and appreciated.

    Last night I had the pleasure of watching another of the DVDs; this one was James Bugental working with a client and demonstrating what he described as an existential humanistic approach. It was lovely to watch, two human beings in dialogue. There was connection, discovery, process and feelings. I learnt a lot.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting on Carl's blog post. I have told him you have responded. Best wishes, JohnM

  4. Hi John,

    Thank you for bringing this book to our attention, I am reminded of Carl Rogers talking about the client being in an emotional prison sell desperately tapping on the walls so 'he' can be heard.

    It reminds me that 'listening' and 'hearing' are quite different things ...