Clients’ perceptions of marriage and family therapists’ way-of-being: a phenomenological analysis

Derek L. Holyoak, Stephen T. Fife, Katherine M. Hertlein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research highlights the influence of therapist factors on treatment outcomes. One therapist factor proposed as fundamental to the process of therapy is the therapist's way-of-being, a relational concept that refers to how the therapist regards a client—either as a person or object (Fife et al., [2014] Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 40, 20–33). Although this case has been made conceptually, there is little empirical research on therapists’ way-of-being with clients. The primary purpose of this research is to investigate clients’ perceptions of their therapists’ way-of-being. Utilizing a common factors perspective, the study seeks to explore: (a) how clients experience their therapists’ way-of-being and (b) the influence therapists’ way-of-being has on clients’ engagement. Phenomenological methods were used to gain a nuanced understanding of the phenomenon. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured face-to-face interviews with clients (N = 10) who received individual therapy from a marriage and family therapist. Results were organized into two main themes: core tenets (attunement, congruency, and aligning with clients) and operational tenets (providing affirmation and validation, balancing flexibility and structure, and accomplishing goals). Findings are used to make a case for adding the concept of way-of-being as an overarching construct for several well-established therapist factors. Clinical and training implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-103
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Marital and Family Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • common factors
  • therapeutic alliance
  • therapeutic pyramid model
  • way-of-being


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