Relational Cultural Theory


Relational cultural theory refers to a branch of psychology that deals with human relations. The theory states that it is important for society to sustain relationships that promote growth (Walker, 2004). According to the theory, growth applies if people create inclusive relationships that support joint success rather than individual autonomy and disconnection from society. In addition, relational cultural theory singles out individual isolation as the origin of human anguish. According to Stiver and Miller, in the face of important and recurring occurrences of disconnection, all of us desire even more for connections with others. Nevertheless, we are so frightened of interacting with other people because of past disconnections and defiance to an extent that we all begin to keep key parts of our understanding out of the connection. It is important to have genuine and reciprocated relationships because they outline how someone feels about themselves and others (Walker, 2004). For example, if one lived with a lifetime secret of abuse because of shame, guilt, and rejection, the disconnection seems inevitable. Deciding to expose this life of abuse, as a result, would promote a better relationship with others eventually making one feel better about them. This paper gives a comprehensive discussion on relational cultural theory as well as principles that explain and govern its existence.

The theory also identifies the consequences of relationships that promote growth. First, there is a sense of enthusiasm because of relating with others. The second consequence is improved self-awareness. Through inclusive relationships, people get to learn more about themselves. Other consequences explained include a longing for supplementary relations, and an incentive to seize control of associations. From the consequences, it is clear that isolation from other people can cause psychological and physical challenges to affected individuals (Walker, 2004). If people approach their needs through growth-oriented associations, the obliteration caused by segregation, and the remedy caused by inclusive associations become visible. This essay seeks to identify the fundamental assumptions of relational cultural theory, how the theory differs from the old psychology of men and women, as well as how it relates to social work.

Fundamental Assumptions

The relational cultural theory applies two assumptions relating to human life. The basic assumption is that people can succeed if they engage in associations that encourage intensification (Walker, 2004). The theory supports association units where all members labor collectively to realize success. Diversity is crucial in achieving high levels of success. Identifying and exploiting different abilities of members of society bring about desired results. Different individual abilities should strengthen a team rather than make them weak. The second assumption of relational cultural theory is that experiences such as segregation infringe on associations, cause human distress, and intimidate continued human existence (Walker, 2004).

Associations normally involve at least two individuals or parties. Therefore, when certain people or groups end up isolated, the relational cycle often breaks, as certain gaps remain unattended (Walker, 2004). We all need each other albeit differently because God has given everyone a different ability. Jordan and Hartling state in their book that the central tenet of relational cultural theory is that people develop through and towards the relationship, which occurs within and cultural context forms its influencing factor (Nakash, 2004). In general, the various tenets upon which the processes of relational development and psychological growth base themselves include the following assumptions:

  1. The growth of relationships and interaction is a life-long process in the human lifespan. This is an implication that people never seize to enhance their relationships with new and old friends.
  2. General mutuality characterizes the mature functioning of any human being as opposed to separation. This implies that it is only through mutuality that a person can prove his or her mature functionality.
  3. The psychological growth and development of an individual are highly dependent on his or her capability to get involved in increasingly multifaceted and varied rational networks.
  4. Growth-oriented relationships are fundamentally dependent on people’s mutual empathy. Additionally, the relationships are dependent on people’s mutual empowerment.
  5. It is always essential to authenticate real engagement processes in growth-fostering relationships.
  6. People tend to experience both psychological and mental growth when they take part in the development of various growth fostering relationships. This is an implication that an individual ought to participate in the growth and development of these relationships in order to realize psychological and mental growth.
  7. People tend to participate in the development of such relationships with the sole aim of realizing increased rational proficiency in their lives.

How the Theory Differs from Traditional Approach to Psychology

There are several differences identifiable from the relational cultural theory compared to the traditional approach of the psychology of men and women. The treatment accorded to men and women in the old psychology is, in essence, a difference when expressed to relational cultural theory. The old psychology identifies men as superior to women while relational cultural theory considers people as equal, worth of respect, and free from discrimination (Jordan, 2009). This is similar to feminism which Moore (1989) states that feminism could be taken to refer to the awareness of women’s oppression and exploitation at work, in the home, and in society as well as to the conscious political action taken by women to change a situation.

The old psychology also never considered intelligence among women who experienced hate from men, as they were dependent on them. This made women appear worthless as compared to men thus lacking any roles in the development agendas of their communities. Jordan, and Hartling, affirmed, women need to learn to use power for positive ends, and men need to recognize that all people are emotional and vulnerable. This also discourages the independence of individuals because it may result in isolation from their communities, thus affecting the development of success-oriented relations. The theory discourages all forms of discrimination as men and women ought to receive equal treatment in all interactions in order to achieve success (Jordan, 2009).

Critical Assessment of Relational Cultural Theory

From a critical point of view, the relational cultural theory applies as a supporter of reciprocated authorization among all individuals that apply it (Jordan, 2009). The theory discourages any human aspects that may result in failure, as relationships ought to focus on achieving growth and success (Jordan, 2009). The theory teaches that the participation of individuals towards growth within a group is important, and individual assessment should focus on character and personality instead of factors such as age, gender, and cultural background. The relational cultural theory implies that if people treat each other with dignity and respect, values that we live by in the Army will affirm that everyone can offer a growth pattern in society. Togetherness is crucial in achieving success because of the sustainable exploitation of resources (Moore, 1989).

The connection between Ideas of the Theory, Social Work Values, and Health

The ideas explained in the relational cultural theory have some connection with the underlying values addressed in social work. A huge value upheld in social work is social justice that is worth the fight each day. This value has some connection with the emphasis by the relational cultural theory of creating a society in which everyone receives equal treatment regardless of different individual abilities. Both relational cultural theory and social work support equality and emphasize its importance in achieving success. Success in both social work and relational cultural theory happens if all individuals involved in interactions bear integrity in treating everyone with respect. This involves emotional intelligence on the part of everyone by understanding the feeling of those they relate with as well as understanding how individual feelings can affect others. Another value that connects social work with the theory is the spirit of togetherness (Turner, 2011).

Social work ensures that people living in society bring all their resources together, and keep their differences apart for the sake of joint success and growth. Relational cultural theory values also connect with health as a human right. The spirit of working together emphasized in the theory applies to ensuring human rights are not violated; people have the potential to fight back. Martin Luther King accomplished this milestone in history successfully. Martin Luther King (1995) stated that civil rights are empty without human rights and this premise lays the foundation for human rights whether medical, clothing, housing, or food no matter race, creed, or origin. Health is one of the fundamental human rights that apply to all members of a society (Turner, 2011). Therefore, if people chose to work together without focusing on their differences, it is possible to get back all the privileges denied to them. This creates a sense of responsibility in society thereby understanding the responsibility towards one another. This spirit empowers people to take full control of their destiny and provision of basic human rights (Turner, 2011).

How Relational Cultural Theory can guide Social Work Practice

Relational cultural theory (RCT) can offer great guidance to social work practice through its values. First, the spirit of togetherness emphasized by the theory is applicable in social work by working together with unprivileged members of society as a form of joint responsibility. The value of maintaining connection within a society is applicable in social work, as it will ensure that society holds out the importance of inclusive relations that do not exclude anyone from the society for lack of something (Turner, 2011). Relational cultural theory discourages dominance from certain members of a society, a value that is applicable in social work. This is because it allows utmost interaction between social workers and the people to whom they offer their services. This level of interaction improves esteem levels among members of society, as they will be at ease sharing their needs and expectations with the social workers (Turner, 2011).

The orientation of relational cultural theory sustains relationships that promote growth. Social workers can also reorient their activities to establish such kinds of relationships to gain better knowledge of societal needs and the best ways of responding to them. Establishing these relationships also helps to improve the satisfaction social workers receive. Social work improves the capacity of individuals by empowering them to take control of their lives through working with others. It emphasizes the benefits of the social aspect of life in achieving success and experiencing growth. Therefore, integrating the ideas of relational cultural theory into social work should have positive effects (Cohen, and Solomon, 1995).

Multicultural counseling and RCT

Relational cultural theory (RCT) advocates for social justice and its positive outcomes. It is, therefore, imperative to do more work with the aim of ensuring that vital integration strategies are outlined. This will play a significant role in fostering the well-being of individuals and society. For this reason, the most viable way of confronting the various challenges that cripple stereotypes and certain disempowering forces in the communities is to do whatever it takes to merge forces of resistance from a variety of environmental settings. Additionally, RCT can achieve the anticipated success by working closely with various professional social justice advising institutions, and counselors. It is only through this that the full incorporation of RCT into the systems of the societies may occur. The following questions may form an integral part of the fight to internalize RCT in societies;

  1. What are the various strategies for achieving disconnection and in what way can other people who embrace different cultural practices from yours use them?
  2. What do the strategies names look like from a personal perspective and counseling relationship?
  3. What are the various personal relations images and the various life experiences that have played a significant role in ensuring that these images are shaped?
  4. What effects do these images have on your personal capability to come up with and uphold mutually empathic relationships with other people who embrace different cultures from yours?
  5. What are the various socio-cultural powers that have a significant effect on your capability to come up with and uphold the mutuality in your relations?
  6. What have been your survival tactics and strategies in relation to socio-cultural influences like the management of shame?


In conclusion, therefore, the paper gives a comprehensive discussion on the incorporation of relational cultural theory into society and the role it plays in the expansion of traditional models. The paper also touches on the importance of impartiality and equality especially amongst men and women and hence fostering togetherness. Togetherness is crucial in achieving success because of the sustainable exploitation of resources.


Cohen, J. & Solomon, N. (1995). The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV. Web.

Jordan, J. & Hartling, L. (undated). The Development of Relational-Cultural Theory. Web.

Jordan, J. (2009). The Power of Connection: Recent Developments in Relational Cultural Theory. California: Routledge Publishers.

Miller, J. B. & Stiver, I. P. (1997). The Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life. Boston: Beacon Press.

Moore, H. (1989). Feminism and anthropology. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Nakash, O. (2004). Relational-cultural theory, body image and physical health. Wellesley: Ctr For Research On Women.

Turner, F. (2011). Social Work Treatment: Interlocking Theoretical Approaches. New York: Oxford University Press.

Walker, M. (2004). How Connections Heal: Stories from Relational-Cultural Therapy. New York: Guilford Press.

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