A Primer on the Evolution of Therapeutic Engagement in MFT: Understanding and Resolving the Dialectic Tension of Alliance and Neutrality. Part 2—Recommendations: Dynamic Neutrality Through Multipartiality and Enactments


therapy, therapeutic alliance, clinical neutrality, relationship therapy


Therapists’ model and practice of therapeutic engagement is fundamentally linked to process and outcome in therapy. The working space and the working relationship of therapy are profoundly and equally important. Neutrality promotes the working space of therapy, and alliance the working relationship. In theory and practice, however, the therapeutic alliance and clinical neutrality coexist in an often unrecognized dialectic tension. Reconciling alliance operations and neutrality operations is essential to positive process and outcome and exponentially more complex in relational therapies—characterized by clients’ diverse and colliding perspectives and experiences that the relational therapist must navigate and mediate. A model is needed to help therapists meet the unique challenges of multilateral therapeutic engagement in relational therapies. Various evolutionary iterations of relational therapy have experimented with different neutrality-alliance hybrids in the attempt to provide a working resolution that sustains multilateral alliances and clinical neutrality (Brimhall & Butler, 2011). Building on a historical retrospective and critique of neutrality in relational therapies (Brimhall & Butler, 2011), we identify distinct dimensions of neutrality and then propose a new approach to therapeutic neutrality. Operationalized through multipartial therapist interaction and multipartial enactments, a new, dynamic neutrality represents an evolutionary advance of neutrality responsive to the ecological pressures of relational therapy. Through multipartiality, a dynamically engaged neutrality and relationship advocacy are realized, allowing alliance and neutrality to coexist harmoniously rather than antagonistically in the ecological system of relational therapy. Thereby, both the working space and working alliances are sustained and the dialectic tension between alliance and neutrality is resolved.

Original Publication Citation

Butler, M. H.*, Brimhall, A. S.*, & Harper, J. M. (2011). A primer on the evolution of therapeutic engagement in MFT: Understanding and resolving the dialectic tension of alliance and neutrality. Part 2—Recommendations: Dynamic neutrality through multipartiality and enactments. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 39(3), 193-213.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



The American Journal of Family Therapy




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor