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Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Perspectives on the Helping Relationship: The Roles of the Helper and the Helpee

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Dr. Donna L. Roberts
Dr. Donna L. Roberts
 29 days ago

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Webster defines 'helping' as "the process of giving aid or relief, assisting or furthering the progress or advancement of; the action of preventing, changing or rectifying; offering oneself in the service of another" (Guralnik, 1984, p. 652). As such, this definition encompasses a broad spectrum of activities and interaction between people in both personal and professional realms. And yet, while it seems to somewhat capture the idea of "what" helping is and does, it certainly does not sufficiently convey the essence of "how" this helping is accomplished.

Perspectives on Helping

Inevitably every helper at some point faces the question of how to be more effective in this endeavor of helping - how to reach more of those in need; how to facilitate growth and change more rapidly, with more positive results or to a greater number of people; how to make a real difference in the lives of people in need. With these difficult questions in mind researchers and human service practitioners have developed a variety of theories and strategies aimed at determining the essential elements of effective helping.

Comparison of Perlman and Rogers


Social Worker Helen H. Perlman's orientation highlights the relationship between the helper and the helpee as the "dynamic force in moving a person from his request for help to his fruitful use of it" (1979, p. viii). She considers the development of an alliance with the helpee as the first problem to be addressed in the pursuit of helping. From her perspective, the relationship is the "how" in the helping formula. She insists that, "the emotional bond that unites two (or more) people around some shared concern is charged with enabling, facilitative powers toward both problem solving and goal attainment" (p. 2).

Similarly, the Humanistic Psychology movement placed emphasis on the value of the therapeutic relationship as paramount in truly being of service to a client (Corsini & Wedding, 1989). According to this view, using empathy, respect and genuineness the helper facilitates growth and change by accessing the individual's own inner resources. The central principle of the Humanistic approach is that individuals have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for altering their self-concepts, behavior and attitudes towards others, which become operable in a facilitative psychological climate by means of the therapist - client relationship.

Specifically, the work of therapist Carl Rogers focuses around the establishment and maintenance of such a facilitative relationship He formulated the hypothesis that "a self-directed growth process would follow the provision and reception of a particular kind of relationship characterized by genuineness, non-judgmental caring and empathy" ( Rogers, 1951, p. 155).

He proposed that by establishing this particular type of relationship with an understanding, accepting therapist, a client could resolve difficulties and gain the insight necessary to restructure his life.

In this way each view considers the element of relationship as paramount in the attainment of helping goals. Both acknowledge the emotional bonding of the human beings themselves, not only their roles, as the "catalyst, the enabling dynamism in the support, nurture and freeing of people's energies and motivations toward problem solving and the use of help" (Perlman, 1979, p.2)
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In a general sense, and thus somewhat superficially, Perlman's (1979) view appears to concur wholeheartedly with the Humanistic orientation, and especially Carl Rogers' manifestation, the client-centered approach. In fact, given the limitations of our language, Perlman even uses some of the very same words to describe the necessary components of an effective working relationship. Specifically, she details the attributes of "warmth, acceptance, empathy, caring-concern and genuineness" as essential to facilitate helping (p. 54). It is only after careful dissection of the semantics that one can decipher the subtle nuances by which her view diverges from that of Rogers, sometimes dramatically.

For example, Perlman refutes Rogers' mandate of unconditional positive regard as decidedly unrealistic and anti-genuine by insisting that, "No relationship is without its conditions and expectations," (p. 56) In this way, it would seem that she is challenging the coexistence of the two conditions of congruence and unconditional positive regard. She states that this unconditional acceptance and neutrality "falls short of providing both the stimulus hunger and the inherent feedback that every meaningful relationship holds" (p. 222). Emphatically she continues on this point insisting, "any change-promoting relationship must contain elements of expectation as well as acceptance, of stimulation as well as support" (p. 29); "Any relationship which seeks to enable a person, to feel secure and thus go forward to risk new learning and new experiences combines a warm acceptance of the person in his specialness and his present being with the input of stimulation and expectation of his becoming" (p. 30) . This contrasts significantly with both Rogers' inclusion of unconditional positive regard and his concept of the individual's actualizing tendency - "the constructive, directional flow toward the realization of each individual's full potential" (Rogers, 1980, p. 75) - as well as the subsequent implication of a non-directive approach to helping.

Furthermore, Perlman (1979) broadens the spectrum of the helping relationship to encompass the whole realm of human services. She considers the concepts espoused by Rogers to reflect limits with regard to their application in psychotherapy, which addresses primarily intra- and interpersonal difficulties and services clients who are typically voluntary, self-motivated, self-analytical and educated.

In contrast, individuals who seek the assistance of the broad range of human service workers may well be involuntary, resistant and plagued with problems resulting from or exacerbated by external circumstances. Additionally, these clients may need advice, directives and concrete resources, rather than just introspection and enhancement of the self. She states, "A person has to be helped to understand and, further to want what he needs, to move in his feeling/thought/action from one perspective to another" (p. 51). This contradicts Rogers method of non-directive intervention where the individual determines, monitors, evaluates and adjusts his/her own course of therapy.

These differences, Perlman argues, make the relationship an even more essential, albeit more complex, aspect of helping. She notes, "the ability of the client to use the resources of the helper ably, to increase their own effectiveness in coping, to enhance their sense of worth and mastery, appears to be closely associated with the recognition, acceptance, support, and caring conveyed in the relationship between themselves and the human being who is to be their help giver" (p. 21). Furthermore, she categorizes the essential qualities Rogers detailed, as necessary, but not "sufficient" when one considers this expanded view of human service workers and helpers.
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The approaches of Perlman and Rogers may differ significantly when it comes down to splitting the proverbial hairs of technique, execution and professional style. However, when one is able to stand back and view the proverbial forest through the trees, it becomes apparent that they are in perfect agreement about the core message - that the human connection is a powerful force which can create profound change on every level from individual to societal to global. They have both, in their own ways and for their own reasons, found that missing link which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts - that undefinable human element. Perhaps John Donne said it best and most succinctly, "No man is an island . . . " (Donne, 1624).


Corsini, R. J. & Wedding, D. Current Psychotherapies: 4e. Itasca,

IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.

Donne, J. (1624). Devotions upon emergent occasions. London, UK.

Guralnik, D. B. (1984). Webster's New World Dictionary: Second College

Edition. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Perlman, H. H. (1979). Relationship: The heart of helping people. Chicago, IL:

The University of Chicago Press.

Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Boston, MA: oughton Mifflin.

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