Reciprocity in therapeutic relationships: A conceptual review

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Abstract

Reciprocity has generally been understood as a process of giving and taking, within an exchange of emotions or services, and has long been recognized as a central part of human life. However, an understanding of reciprocity in professional helping relationships has seldom received attention, despite movements in mental health care towards more collaborative approaches between service users and professionals. In this review, a systematic search of the published papers was conducted in order to explore how reciprocity is conceptualized and understood as part of the dyadic therapeutic relationship between professionals and service users. Eleven papers met our inclusion criteria and a narrative synthesis was used to synthesize the key concepts of reciprocity. The concepts of: ‘dynamic equilibrium’, ‘shared affect’, ‘asymmetric alliance’, and ‘recognition as a fellow human being’ were recurrent in understandings of reciprocity in professional contexts. These conceptualizations of reciprocity were also linked to specific behavioural and psychological processes. The findings suggest that reciprocity may be conceptualized and incorporated as a component of mental health care, with recurrent and observable processes which may be harnessed to promote positive outcomes for service users. To this end, we make recommendations for further research to progress and develop reciprocal processes in mental health care.

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