Psy.D. Program Philosophy: Relational Model

Relational Model

Fundamental to our approach is that human relationships are of central importance to both learning and clinical practice. As articulated in the NCSPP model:

Relationship is the capacity to develop and maintain a constructive working alliance with clients and includes the ability to work in collaboration with others such as peers, colleagues, students, supervisors, and members of other disciplines, consumers of services, and community organizations . . .

The relationship competency is the foundation and prerequisite of the other competencies. (R. L. Peterson, D. R. Peterson, Abrams, & Stricker, 1997)

Although therapy and teaching are different in some important ways, they share the common challenge of being fundamentally relational endeavors. Both are profoundly "enabling" activities, and faculty in professional programs need to be able to model effective communication and empathic connection with students. In this connection, it is noteworthy that current research on the determinants of psychotherapy outcome demonstrates the importance of the therapeutic alliance, that is, the formation of effective relationships, as the basis for effective clinical work (Gomez-Schwartz, 1978; Horvath, Gaston, & Luborsky, 1993; Horvath & Greenberg, 1994; Krupnick, Stotsky, Simmens & Moyer, 1992; Raue & Goldfried, 1994). Binder & Strupp (1997) concluded that "there is no variable that has been found thus far to be more strongly predictive of therapy outcome than the quality of the therapeutic alliance" (Binder & Strupp, 1997, p. 123).

The importance of relationships is also central to the educational enterprise (Angelo, 1991; Singer, Peterson, & Magidson, 1992; Tiberius & Billson, 1991). Based on the principle that learning occurs best in the context of a vital relationship between teacher and student, a key role of Wright Institute Faculty is in identifying students' developmentally appropriate learning needs as they progress through the program, and addressing these needs within the context of supportive relationships (Angelo, 1991, 1993; Boehrer, 1991; Irby, 1994; Katz & Henry, 1993; King & Kitchener, 1994; Slotnick, 1996; Tiberius & Billson, 1991). Further, an environment in which students are able to communicate effectively with their instructors serves as a powerful model for students' own work with clients. As Lubin and Stricker (1992) note, to be effective the clinical education program should "attend to the construction of an environment that parallels the values which we hold for practice" (Lubin & Stricker, 1992, p. 44). Our program seeks to generate such a learning alliance between faculty and students which is characterized by trust, respect, empathy, and mutual inquiry, one which will animate and inspire learner and teacher alike.

The literature on excellence in professional education emphasizes a number of additional principles that are incorporated into the design of the Wright Institute's program. All of these are directed toward enabling our students to learn the critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills they will need to deal with the complex situations professional clinicians face in practice (Abrahamson, 1990; Barr & Tagg, 1995; Barrows, 1985; Curry & Makoul, 1996; Gadzella, Hartsoe, & Harper, 1989; Harris, 1993; Jarvis, 1992; Regehr & Norman, 1996; Rice & Richlin, 1993; Schön, 1987, 1995; Stice, 1987; Thompson & Williams, 1985; Woods, 1987).

Three of these principles are particularly salient:

  • learning in context, to promote better utilization of knowledge
  • reflective practice, to develop the capacity to respond to complex and unusual situations
  • broader conception of scholarship, as outlined in the work of Ernest Boyer and Eugene Rice on the one hand and George Stricker and Steven Trierweiler on the other