The therapeutic relationship between a client and dietitian: A systematic integrative review of empirical literature

Publication Name

Nutrition and Dietetics


Aim: Scientific evidence underpins dietetics practice; however, evidence of how the therapeutic relationship influences outcomes is limited. This integrative review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic of the therapeutic relationship between clients and dietitians in the individual counselling context by summarising empirical literature into qualitative themes. Methods: An electronic literature search of the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PsychInfo, Scopus and Web of Science databases was conducted in October 2018 and repeated in February 2021. Studies were included if they explicitly referred to the therapeutic relationship (or associated terms), were based on study data and available in full text. Extracted data were checked by a second researcher and the methodological quality was evaluated independently by two researchers using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. An iterative process of qualitatively coding, categorising and comparing data to examine recurring themes was applied. Results: Seventy-six studies met the inclusion criteria. Five themes were identified which showed the extent and nature of research in this area. Studies revealed the therapeutic relationship: (i) is valued within clinical dietetic practice, (ii) involves complex and multifactorial interactions, (iii) is perceived as having a positive influence, (iv) requires skills training and (v) is embedded in practice models and tools. Conclusion: Studies show the therapeutic relationship is a valued and multifactorial component of clinical dietetic practice and is perceived to positively influence the client and dietitian. Observational data are needed to assess the extent to which the strength of the therapeutic relationship might contribute to clients' health outcomes.

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