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Missed the Relationships as bridges workshop? Here's what you should know.

30 July 2013

± minute read

    Missed the Relationships as bridges workshop? Here's what you should know.
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 We recently hosted a free 3-hour workshop entitled: Rejuvenating “Relationships as bridges” workshop on the 19th of July 2013. The Presenters were Dr. Caren Scheepers and Ms. Beth Norden (Counseling and Industrial Psychologists respectively, Executive Coaches and Consultants).

The aim of this workshop was two fold:

  1. provide participants time to reflect on a work relationship they had with a client or business partner.
  2. experience the power of metaphors in personal relationship transformation.

If you missed this session, here is a short overview covering some important aspects:

Build a bridge...no really, and then tell us about it

Workshop participants had the opportunity to build models of metaphorical bridges representing work relationships which we then discussed in pairs. During this debriefing exercise, teammates played the role of peer supervisor. We used the widely utilised 7-eyed Supervision Model of Hawkins and Schwenk (2011), to focus our attention on the relationship between psychotherapist, coach, counselor or HR business partner and client. It was evident that for some participants, the bridge building exercise was, “just a conversation opener”. For others, they took the building exercise seriously and were dedicated to illustrate their frustrations, decisive moments, highs and lows through connecting their sticks with clay or glue. For others, it became quite technical by adding shock absorbers and strengthening columns. It was interesting to notice that some used colours in a symbolic way and derived unexpected meaning from it (like the one that called the afternoon “green”).

New to the game? Pace yourself

Relationships are core to us in the helping professions, however, novices’ eagerness to help can cause them to stray into too much intimacy too soon, ignoring the warning signs from the client that say “keep off”. This in turn leads to the client’s energy being channeled into repelling the intrusion rather than into learning and change. In this regard, Carl Rogers (1961) identified three characteristics of the helping relationship: Positive regard or appreciation that should be 5 to 1 in terms of criticism; Genuineness and Accurate empathy. When the client is unconditionally supported in this way, he/she is safe to discuss weaknesses, failures or obstacles. Luckily, the power by being a catalyst for change is vested in the relationship itself and the process, not in the supposed supernatural abilities of the facilitator (Bluckert, 2010; Luborsky, Singer & Luborsky, 1975; Rogers, 2011; Scheepers, 2012; Stout-Rostron, 2009).

How you see your client makes a difference...

We encouraged workshop participants to consider how they generally perceive their clients. Rogers (2011) emphasises in this regard that clients are not our friends, nor are they only professional acquaintances that you will forget the moment they are gone. They are probably somewhere in the shadow territory between the two. When we asked workshop participants to describe their clients, they mentioned characteristics like “Needy”; “Hard work”; “Demanding”; and “Problematic”. On the one hand, clients might be perceived as overly positive (“Halo-effect”), or in terms of a psychiatric classification system such as the ICD-10 codes or DSM V or other labels from psychometric assessments, or as a source of income. Considering consequences of these perspectives on the relationship was the subsequent step in the guided reflection processes.

...as does how you see yourself

The next aspect that we concentrated on was self-perception and particularly around roles and responsibilities and from the Transactional Analysis life positions’ perspectives such as “I’m Ok, You’re OK”. Special attention was given to typical role complications like playing a “rescuer” role and the unintended consequences of disempowerment. We touched on transference, countertransference and parallel processes in the debriefing on the “relationship bridges”, where participants had to reflect on which other relationships the particular relationship reminds the participant of. Moreover, participants were stimulated to use themselves as instruments, through providing invaluable feedback on the impact the client’s behaviour has on them. They were prompted to offer this feedback in a tentative manner, after they had asked for permission.

More metaphors, more reflections

We also reflected on the impact of taking too much responsibility for relationships with clients and when this relationship actually has a negative influence on the rest of the system, such as in Executive Coaching, with a triadic relationship between the coach, coachee and organisation. Taking the larger system into account proved to be an invaluable lesson. In addition to relationships as bridges, we encouraged workshop participants in closing to continue their reflection by using other metaphors: “If your relationship with your client was a colour, piece of music, a type of weather or a country, what would it be?”

What the participants had to say:

We found the session to be encouraging, enlightening, rejuvenating, insightful, refreshing, relevant, relaxing, reviving, green, thought provoking, creative, connecting the dots, equipping, more than expected or bargained for. It was great to verbalise some of the aspects around relationships and in a way to organize our thoughts. Every bridge was unique like each relationship is. The exercise provided an opportunity to reflect on our experiences. It was nice to give ourselves permission to play and to notice how ideas were growing while playing. We realised we have to open ourselves up for sharing about our client relationships. When I arrived, I felt frustrated about the many clients that I do not get to service and it was great to stand still and appreciate the specific relationships that I do have. The debriefing questions assisted us in articulating our needs and to develop an understanding around the dynamics of our relationships. I learned to take time for myself and to reflect”.


Berne, E. (1964). Games people play. The psychology of human relationships. London: Penguin Books. Bluckert, P. (2010). Critical factors in executive coaching – the coaching relationship, Industrial and Commercial Training, 37 (7), 336-340. Hawkins, P. & Schwenk, G. (2011). The seven-eyed model of coaching supervision, As cited in Bachkirova, T.; Jackson, P. & Clutterbuch, D. Coaching & Mentoring Supervision. Theory and Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press. McGraw-Hill Education, p.28-40. Luborsky, L.; Singer, B. & Luborsky, E. (1975). Comparative studies of psychotherapies: is it true that “everyone has won and all must have prizes?” Archives of General Psychiatry, 32: p. 995 – 1008 Rogers, J. (2011:) Coaching skills: A Handbook. Bershire: Maidenhead. Scheepers, C. B. (2012). Coaching Leaders: The 7 “P” Tools to propel change. Randburg: Knowres. Stout-Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching: Wisdom and Practice. Randburg: Knowres. Photo Credit: paul bica via Compfight cc

For more information, please contact us on +27(0) 11 781 3705/6/7 or send an email to

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