All intimate or close relationships have the potential for providing healing and growth to the participants. This potential is fulfilled when a person is seen at increasingly deep levels by another and is still accepted by that other. Feeling accepted by someone who know us, warts (or worse) and all, is profoundly healing since our deepest wound is almost always some version of not feeling loveable, adequate, or acceptable. In addition to this healing, growth also arises when someone we trust enough to reveal ourselves to starts to see parts of ourselves that we cannot yet see and to mirror those back to us so that we can begin to see them. The growth has to do coming to know more fully who we are.
So in a sense all intimate or close relationships have a psychotherapeutic element. One cannot actually be a therapist to a friend or family member, but part of what goes on in such relationships can contribute to healing and growth through some of the same mechanisms that allow therapy to do so.
In individual therapy the therapist enters directly into a relationship with the client to promote healing and growth. In other forms of therapy—couples, family, and group--the picture is a bit more complex because more people are involved. While the therapist still enters into a relationship with each person, the focus of the work has more to do with facilitating the relationships between the other people in the room. In the case of couples therapy and family therapy, these other people have significant ongoing relationships outside the therapist’s office that the therapy seeks to enhance in order to contribute to the healing and growth of all those involved. In the case of group therapy the participants usually do not have relationships outside the therapy setting and the therapist’s task is to facilitate the depth and therefore the healing/growth potential of these relationships in the present moment during the time the therapy group is meeting.