The Power Differential and Therapy

In the helping professions, the power differential has great value. Used wisely and appropriately, it creates a safe, well-boundaried, professional context for growth and healing. More specifically, when used ethically and effectively, the power differential offers people in therapy, students, supervisees, and patients some important assurances:

  • Confidence in their caregiver’s knowledge, training, and expertise
  • Security, safety, and protection
  • Role boundary clarification and maintenance
  • Assessments of progress
  • Sensitivity, respect, fairness, and care
  • Allocated responsibilities
  • Provision of direction, focus, treatment, guidance, and support
  • Overview and access to a bigger picture and wider view of persons and situations
  • Chain of accountability
  • Facilitated accomplishment of task and purpose
  • Final decision-making authority

These values can be reduced to six categories:

  1. Safety, kindness, and boundaries
  2. Larger frame
  3. Expertise
  4. Assigned responsibilities
  5. Accountability
  6. Assessment and productivity

Think about it. When you go to a therapist, doctor, or teacher, you want to be in an environment where you can get what you need. You want the environment to be different than just talking to a friend. When you get on a plane, for example, you want and need the pilot to look and act competent. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt just won’t do. You need him or her to be skilled, to embrace his or her role, and treat you with respect.

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