Therapeutic Relationships – The Overlooked Key to Healing

Therapeutic Relationships – The Overlooked Key to Healing


My classmate, A, has a treatment plan for me. He wants me to exercise—not the light walks I’ve been doing, but intense cardio intervals and weight-lifting. He wants me to get more sleep and drink more water. When he gives me the instructions, I feel slightly disappointed; I could have prescribed this plan to myself. In fact, even in telling him the story about my fatigue, I had already predicted what he’d recommend. I could hear myself admitting to not getting enough sleep and to often forgetting to drink water. I just hadn’t thought consciously about those facts for a while. Life and self-deception had kind of gotten in the way.


In one way, because I had the answer in front of me, and in another way to please A, who I’d have to report back to the following week, I started to exercise. When I got home, I stopped telling myself that a short, light walk would be enough—I had to start sweating. I stopped kidding myself that five hours of sleep a night was enough and that watching TV on my laptop while lying in bed was a substitute for rest. I made the changes and I began to feel better.


I might have had the internal fortitude to do all of this on my own, but it was talking to someone I trusted that gave me the push I needed. I saw my issues and current lifestyle reflected in A’s eyes. The mirror he held up to me gave me the jolt required for me to start taking care of myself.
therapeutic relationship

The healing relationship is something that is not often credited in mainstream medicine. I am taking a course in Motivational Interviewing (MI) in which we learn to tailor our patient interactions to inspire patients towards making healthy changes in their lives. MI helps people move past places of ambivalence because it acknowledges that, while patients have the power and authority to make changes, they also need the therapeutic relationship to start the first steps of change. We’re often told to share our goals with a friend. One reason for this is that we are held accountable. Another reason is that saying the words out loud helps solidify the need to make a change. Telling another person mirrors our needs, wants and ambitions back to us. Through the act of sharing we gain mutual support and are more likely to move forward with our goals.


[pullquote] When I ended a 5-year relationship and entered the dating scene, late winter, last year, I often joked to my friends that dating was “free therapy.”[/pullquote]

When I ended a 5-year relationship and entered the dating scene, late winter, last year, I often joked to my friends that dating was “free therapy.” I had to push myself to leave my bubble of comfort and sit across from a stranger. I had to risk being evaluated by someone else. Dating showed me the need to take chances with my heart and express my feelings and vulnerability. I was confronted by my insecurities—feelings of unworthiness, worry that I wasn’t attractive enough and a deep-rooted fear of rejection and abandonment. I was forced to stare these fears down, acknowledge their existence and work to move past them. This experience helped me become a better person and a better doctor, improving the relationships I have with my patients and coworkers.


Relationships expose our wounds. After all, the human experience is formed in relationship. Even withdrawn introverts rely on others for their daily experiences. Hermits living in the woods are reliant on relationships, or lack thereof. Their identity, forged by their need to escape from others through the conscious rejection of relationships, still reflects their intersubjectivity. Our earliest relationships establish our deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world. Everything we learn about ourselves is through relationships with other people. 


I read this wonderful quote in an article recently,


Our wounds were formed in-relationship and can only be healed in-relationship. No amount of meditation on a mountain can solve your mommy issues.


Healing, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, must be done through interpersonal connection. Relationships help expose our wounds while showing us what we can do to address them. While we ultimately heal ourselves, we intuit that the healing process needs the hands of another. Through my last relationship I’ve seen my insecurities held up in front of my face. The need for developing my sense of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance began to cry out loudly, when reflected through the prism of the relationship I was in. When we’re alone it is easy to ignore these callings—there is no one beside us, challenging us to evolve, and it becomes easier to settle into our ways.


Self-work cannot be done alone.


[pullquote] When working on ourselves interpersonally, we are forced to see ourselves through the eyes of another human being and develop the darkest, hidden parts of ourselves, becoming whole[/pullquote]


Healing requires reflection, mirroring, empathy, storying, support and, sometimes, accountability. It requires more than just expertise, self-will and determination. When working on ourselves interpersonally, we are forced to see ourselves through the eyes of another human being and develop the darkest, hidden parts of ourselves, becoming whole.


Therefore, true healing cannot be done outside of relationship. We need someone to share and rewrite our stories with. In some cases, it can be a partner, family member or friend. In others, the ears, eyes and hands of a trusted professional can help you move to the next level of conscious healing and self-evolution.


In short, Googling your symptoms can’t heal you.


I love this quote from Julie Delpy’s character in the movie Before Sunrise:


If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. It’s almost impossible to succeed, really, but who cares? The answer must be in the attempt.


Healing is in the attempt.


Author – Talia Marcheggiani, ND talia marcheggiani

BioTalia Marcheggiani is a naturopathic doctor practicing in Toronto. Talia is passionate about accompanying patients on their healing journeys. She is licensed to practice medicine with the Board of Directors of Drugless Therapy – Naturopathy and is a member of both the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors and the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors. Find out more about her through her website –


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Photo Credit – Flickr Creative Commons – Seattle Municipal Archives & Alex Proimos