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Although agreed-upon definitions and descriptions of the helping relationship should be easy to find, such is not the case. Despite the importance of this relationship in the overall helping process, a perusal of textbooks and articles dealing with counseling and psychotherapy shows the lack of a common definition. Rogers (1961), for example, defined a helping relationship as one "in which at least one of the parties has the intent of promoting the growth, development, maturity, improved functioning and improved coping with life of the other" (p. 39). Okun (1992) stated that "the development of a warm, trustful relationship between the helper and helpee underlies any strategy or approach to the helping process and, therefore, is a basic condition for the success of any helping process" (p. 14). According to Miars and Halverson (2001), "The ultimate goal of a professional helping relationship should be to promote the development of more effective and adaptive behavior in the clients" (p. 51).

It is easy to see the difficulty in categorically stating an accepted definition or description of the helping relationship, regardless of which of these statements one chooses to embrace. Yet despite the differences, each carries with it directions and directives aimed at a single goal: the enhancement and encouragement of client change. The following definitive characteristics of the helping relationship embrace this goal and describe our conceptualization of this relationship:

• A relationship initially structured by the counselor or therapist but open to cooperative restructuring based on the needs of the client.

• A relationship that begins with the initial meeting and continues through termination.

• A relationship in which all persons involved perceive the existence of trust, caring, concern, and commitment and act accordingly.

• A relationship in which the needs of the client are given priority over the needs of the counselor or therapist.

• A relationship that provides for the personal growth of all persons involved.

• A relationship that provides the safety needed for self-exploration of all persons involved.

• A relationship that promotes the potential of all persons involved.

The major responsibility in creating this relationship rests initially with the counselor or therapist, with increasing demands for client involvement and commitment over time. It is a shared process, and only through such shared efforts will this relationship develop and flourish. This development evolves in stages that take the relationship from initiation to closure. The stages in this evolving process are the subject of the following section.

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