Contracting in psychotherapy

It is an interesting question about contracting. In my next webinar I discuss contracting as Transactional Analysis is generally seen as a contract based therapy.

When a client makes a contract who are they actually making the contract with? They make the contract in the presence of a therapist but are they making the contract with the therapist or with themselves?

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Demand contracts

Then there is the idea of the demand contract. These are contracts the therapist demands the client makes. For example:

I wont work with you unless you close all the escape hatches. I have never demanded this of a client.

I wont work with you unless you make a no suicide contract. I have requested this in the past from clients but I would not do it now.

I wont work with you unless you agree not to look at any child pornography. I have requested this in the past from clients.

If you work in drug rehabilitation sooner or later you work with people who you know are making substantial to large sized drug deals. If a therapist has a moral problem with this do they request a demand contract. 

The problem with demand contracts is the client may just lie to you. And if that happens what impact does that have on the therapeutic relationship? Or the client is making a promise to the therapist and you do not want a client to make promises to a therapist. That is not helpful at all.

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One Response to “Contracting in psychotherapy”

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  1. Colin Ogdon says:

    Hiya Tony,

    Interesting here about the idea of a demand contract. It’s not something I’ve ever come across, to make a demand like that. To me it appears go against the principle meaning of a contract in the first place. In my work around suicide and the impact of it on clinicians I found that acceptance of free choice in the other (when contemplating suicide) appeared to be freeing, enabling and empowering to both parties. That said the perceived morality around self caused death is more socially vague than the perceived morality around other topics such as abuse of others etc. In these other areas I’m not 100% sure a demand will help at all (as you say they are likely to go ‘under ground’ in my view), and yet there’s a hard reality for a therapist working with an individual who is knowingly causing harm to others. I’m reminded of that concept of difficult empathy here. To help a severely hurtful person, do we still need to get into their shoes, see their world, treat them with unconditional positive regard? I think so, and yet boundaries, if not demands, are essential.

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