Respecting Our Differences

Human differences are infinite. We have different ethnicities, cultures, religions, family backgrounds, appearances, interests, and abilities. We each look different, sound different and act and think differently. Many variations of human experience, appearance, and expression shape our unique positions in life.

Williams and Levitt (2007) studied the differences between the values of therapists and clients as they relate to multiculturalism. They found substantial evidence supporting that real value differences exist between therapists and clients and that “therapists cannot be value-neutral and that they routinely convey their values with clients.” (p. 256). Therefore, they say, “the potential exists for therapists to consciously or unconsciously influence clients to become more like themselves.” They point out that most therapists are unaware of the potential negative effects of sharing such values with the client because they do so intending to benefit the client. Especially within a multicultural context, there is a higher probability of alienation, shame and/or indoctrination for the client in ways that either shut down the treatment or is counter-indicated for real progress to be gained.”

To widen our lens, to be able to experience the fuller personhood of our clients, means to be more aware of all the components of their uniqueness and to find a means to fully embrace that which is unique. In order to do this effectively, we need to be able to notice differences without engaging the filters of our own bias.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity. (2)

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) recognizes that the highest quality of the therapeutic relationship is necessary in order to create a process that is truly effective for enduring positive outcomes. To nurture these relationships, they need to be grounded in the most genuine sense of acceptance and respect. Using the terminology of Martin Buber, it is in the “I-Thou” relationship, the total realization of the other person as wholly distinctive from oneself and yet wholly valued as a human being, that we are then able to more safely and effectively enter our client’s world and assist in improving his or her experiencing of that world.

RFT Book Cover


Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Williams, D., & Levitt, H. M. (2008). Clients’ experiences of difference with therapists: Sustaining faith in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Research18(3), 256-270.

Slay-Westbrook, S. (2016). Respect-Focused Therapy: Honoring Clients through the Therapeutic Relationship and Process. Routledge.