Wright Institute Philosophy: Relational Model

Relational Model

Fundamental to the Institute's approach is that human relationships are of central importance to both learning and professional practice. As articulated by Donald Peterson,

Relationship is the capacity to develop and maintain a constructive working alliance with clients and includes the ability to work in collaboration with others such as peers, colleagues, students, supervisors, members of other disciplines, consumers of services, and community organizations" organizations. (Peterson, 2008, p. 12)

Although professional practice and teaching are different in some important ways, they share the common challenge of being fundamentally relational endeavors. Both are indirect, "enabling" activities; the professional or teacher succeeds by enabling the client to improve or the student to learn. As an example, studies of the determinants of psychotherapy outcome demonstrate the importance of the therapeutic alliance - the formation and maintenance of effective relationships - as the basis for effective clinical work (Castonguay, Constantino, & Holtforth, 2006; Gomes-Schwartz, 1978; Horvath, Gaston, & Luborsky, 1993; Horvath & Greenberg, 1994; Krupnick, Stotsky, Simmens & Moyer, 1992; Ligiero & Gelso, 2002; Meissner, 2007; Raue & Goldfried, 1994). Binder and Strupp (1997) concluded that "there is no variable that has been found thus far to be more strongly predictive of therapy outcome than the quality of the therapeutic alliance" (p. 123). The importance of relationships is also central to the educational enterprise; learning occurs best in the context of a vital relationship between teacher and student. (Angelo, 1991; Singer, Peterson, & Magidson, 1992; Tiberius & Billson, 1991; Tiberius, Teshima & Kindler, 2003.)

A key function of program faculty is to identify students' developmentally appropriate learning needs as they progress through the program and address these needs within the context of supportive relationships (Angelo, 1991, 1993; Boehrer, 1991; Irby, 1994; Katz & Henry, 1993; King & Kitchener, 1994; Slotnick, 1996; Tiberius & Billson, 1991; Tiberius et al., 2003). In their interactions with students, faculty needs to be able to model effective communication and empathic connection. Further, an environment in which students are able to communicate effectively with their instructors serves as a powerful model for students' own work with clients. As Lubin and Stricker (1991) noted, in order to be effective, professional programs should "attend to the construction of an environment that parallels the values, which we hold for practice" (p. 44). Wright Institute programs seek to generate such a learning alliance between faculty and students that is characterized by trust, respect, empathy, and mutual inquiry, one which will animate and inspire learner and teacher alike.

The literature on excellence in professional education emphasizes a number of additional principles that are incorporated into the design of our programs. All of these are directed toward enabling our students to cultivate the critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills they wlll need to deal with the complex situations professionals face in practice (Abrahamson, 1990; Barr & Tagg, 1995; Barrows, 1985; Curry & Makoul, 1996; Gadzella, Hartsoe, & Harper, 1989; Harris, 1993; Jarvis, 1992; Regehr & Norman, 1996; Rice & Richlin, 1993; Schön, 1987, 1995; Stice, 1987; Thompson & Williams, 1985; Woods, 1987).

Three of these principles are particularly salient:

  • learning in context, to promote better utilization of knowledge
  • reflective practice, to develop the capacity to respond to complex and unusual situations
  • broader conception of scholarship, as outlined in the work of Ernest Boyer and Eugene Rice on the one hand and George Stricker and Steven Trierweiler on the other