Power in Psychotherapy & Counseling

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.


Power in Psychotherapy and Counseling course (6 CE Credit Hours)


Understanding the role of power is essential for our understanding of the political, economic, communal, familial and clinical realms. I am pleased to announce a new, challenging and exciting online course, Power in Psychotherapy and Counseling. I have enthusiastically worked on the text for this course for several years and, as far as I know, it is the first and most comprehensive course on the topic.

From the first day in graduate school in psychology, we psychotherapists-in-training have been instructed to pay great attention to the “inherent power differential” in psychotherapy. We were taught to be aware of the imbalance of power between therapists and clients, and repeatedly told to never abuse or exploit our vulnerable and dependent clients. When it comes to the psychotherapist-client relationship, the view of power as an attribute possessed exclusively by the psychotherapist has been unchallenged. In our professional newsletters, advice columns on ethics and risk management present a similar unified message about therapists’ unilateral power and clients’ inherent vulnerability.

Therapists and counselors generally ignore the issue of power and we rarely discuss it among ourselves or with our clients. On the other hand, ethicists, attorneys, and risk-management experts write and discuss it incessantly. All in all, even though power is extremely important and equally complex, it is rarely discussed in a comprehensive and non-simplistic way.

Many psychotherapy or counseling clients are, indeed, very vulnerable. They may be distressed, young, impaired, traumatized, anxious, and/or depressed. However, there are also clients who are high functioning and successful. For instance, many of today’s clients (i.e., “consumers”) seek therapy to enhance the quality of their lives. They want to improve their relationships or find meaning for their lives. They are neither depressed nor traumatized nor vulnerable.


Types of Power

  • Legitimate Power: Designated-legal power
  • Expert-Knowledge Power: Knowledge is power
  • Professionalism Power Influence-aura of power
  • Positional or Role Power: Professional role
  • Imbalance of Knowledge Power: Knowledge of others
  • Coercive Power: Forcing one against one’s will
  • Reward Power: The power to reward or to withhold reward
  • Referent Power: The power of admiration
  • Manipulative Power Devious-controlling power

Forms of Power

  • Power Over
  • Power-With
  • Power-Within


The Power in Psychotherapy and Counseling course will invite and challenge you to:

  • Rethink the power differential assumption in psychotherapy
  • Re-evaluate the myth of therapists’ omnipotence and patients’ fragility
  • Examine the idea: “once a client, always a client”
  • Examine our doubt as to whether clients, who are CEOs, power attorneys, or . . . therapists, are also always powerless and vulnerable
  • Identify different types and forms of power in therapy
  • Discuss the complexities of power in therapy
  • Review the moral, professional, and ethical implications of the different views and forms of power

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