Introduction to the Psychology of Meeting Spaces

What is a therapeutic relationship?

This guide will refer often to a “therapeutic relationship.”

A therapeutic relationship is defined as “an interactive relationship with a patient and family that is caring, clear, boundaried, positive, and professional.” (1)

In some other arms of psychotherapy this is called a “therapeutic alliance”. In therapy, change is a function of the bond created between the therapist and the client, whom they collaborate with on goals and strategies. Evidence shows that the therapeutic alliance is key to creating change for the patient. (2)

School staff have all the tools to work therapeutically

Much has been made over the years about the expanding role of educators and how this has increased during the global pandemic (3). Creating a space for wellbeing in your meetings is not an addition to the role, but a proud acknowledgement of the work already being done.

Much of the work of educators is already therapeutic in nature and how we support the emotional wellbeing of our students and families becomes important for future progress.

A study conducted in 2015 showed that providing spaces for students to develop their social and emotional wellbeing resulted in long-term financial gains: for every $1 invested, there was a return of $11. Students who received this investment showed more positive outcomes in health, employment, relationships, deviancy and education (4). It literally pays to invest in a therapeutic approach.

What are the primary goals of a therapeutic relationship in the school environment?

  • Build bonds

  • Effect change

  • Have lasting impact

  • Create a space for collaboration

  • Contain difficult conversations

This is already important to many schools. Look at this mission statement from a popular international school:

“Since 1972, we have established a welcoming and inclusive community. Our diverse cultures and languages drive all our learning experiences.

We nurture creativity and curiosity to stimulate deep thinking. We foster insight, compassion and resilience to enable us to play a meaningful part in a changing world.” (ISL)

Words like “welcoming,” “nurture,” “stimulate,” “foster” and “compassion” all hint at the aspects of a therapeutic relationship described above. In this guide, the need for a therapeutic stance will be explicit.

Copy or print out the following activity to help cement your understanding.

(1) McKlindon D, Barnsteiner JH. Therapeutic relationships. Evolution of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia model. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 1999 Sep-Oct;24(5):237-43. doi: 10.1097/00005721-199909000-00006. PMID: 10479807.

(2) Michael, Lambert. (2015). The therapeutic alliance: An evidence-based guide to practice. Psychotherapy research : journal of the Society for Psychotherapy Research. 26. 1-2. 10.1080/10503307.2015.1031200.

(3) Niculescu, Brandusa-Oana & Dragomir, Isabela-Anda. (2021). One Head, Multiple Hats – Lessons Learned from Online Teaching. International conference KNOWLEDGE-BASED ORGANIZATION. 27. 165-170. 10.2478/kbo-2021-0067.

(4) Belfield, C., Bowden, A., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, 6(3), 508-544. doi:10.1017/bca.2015.55

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