What is Relational-Cultural Theory?

Relational-Cultural Theory Resources:

The Healing Connection. Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver. 1997.

Relational Practice in Action: Group Manual. Judith Jordan. 2000.


“During the late 60s and early 70s, feminist writers began to show that traditional psychodynamic theories and forms of practice neglected or misunderstood many aspects of women’s experience. Their work inspired Judith Jordan, Janet Surrey, Irene Stiver and Jean Baker Miller to get together in 1977 to discuss relationships, connections and communication (Miller and Stiver. 1997. 3).” Their casual discussions turned into Relational-Cultural theory, and before long they were writing articles, publishing books, and presenting their ideas. In 1981, they became associated with the Stone Center at Wellesley College.

According to Relational-Cultural Theory, the goal of development is not forming a separated, independent self, but rather the ability to participate actively in relationships that foster the well being of everyone involved (i.e. growth-fostering relationships). In Relational-Cultural theory isolation is viewed as one of the fundamental sources of suffering in people’s lives and movement toward mutuality through connection lies at the heart of relational development and ushers us out of isolation. Openness to influence, emotional availability, mutual respect and responsiveness characterize growing and growth-enhancing relationships. Empathy and concern flow both ways. In this process, there is affirmation of personal experience and transcendence of a separate sense of self; one’s sense of self is experienced as part of a larger relational unit. The model thus supports the growth of relationships and community (Jordan. 2000. 2). It follows that in creating mutually enhancing connections we can transform all the institutions in our lives, from school to workplace to home (Miller and Stiver. 1997. 22).

The Relational-Cultural Model is about the growth of relatedness and connectedness. It emphasizes a belief in the importance and centrality of mutuality and connection in the lives of all people. Many western and dominant societal models pay lip service to relatedness and community, but actually encourage competition, disconnection, and hyper-individualism. Therefore, building communities of resistance and resilience—where alternative relational values are prized and where people support one another in becoming agents of change—is essential to the full realization of growth in connection for all people (Jordan. 2000. 56).



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