ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (3): 648-659.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.00648

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Facilitating the client change: A perspective from the therapeutic zone of proximal development

WANG Dongmei(), XIANG Kejia   

  1. Department of Psychology, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China
  • Received:2021-03-26 Online:2022-03-15 Published:2022-01-25
  • Contact: WANG Dongmei


Therapeutic zone of proximal development (TZPD) is an extension of Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development in the field of psychotherapy. Based on the assimilation model, TZPD represents the space between the actual development level and the potential development level of clients within a developmental sequence. As a new concept to understand the change process of psychotherapy, it can enhance the understanding of setbacks in psychotherapy, provide an easy-to-operate theoretical framework for promoting the change of the client, and provide precise guidance for the therapist to choose supportive or challenging intervention strategies. In terms of research, TZPD theory is based on an unconventional methodology of Theory-Building Qualitative Research. TZPD theory is built upon accumulating observations in qualitative case studies in which TZPD helped the therapist understand and interpret the psychotherapy process. Under this methodology, researchers mainly use a therapeutic collaboration coding system (TCCS) as a research tool to analyze different case studies, understand the causes and characteristics of different counseling cases, and compare the effects of good and bad results based on TZPD, to describe the characteristics of the psychotherapy process. This kind of practice will provide a richer perspective for future research on the theoretical construction of psychological counseling and therapy and the understanding of psychological treatment mechanisms. In clinical practice, as the working area of psychotherapy, TZPD provides a new perspective for understanding the setback phenomenon in the psychotherapy process. Early researchers regarded setbacks as a hindrance in the psychotherapy process, but the TZPD suggests that setbacks may be therapists' exploration of the clients' TZPD boundaries and preparation for subsequent progress. The key point of therapists' work is not to avoid setbacks, but to discover and differentiate the phenomenon of setbacks under the enlightenment of TZPD theory, and choose the appropriate intervention technique at the appropriate stage. The future of TZPD hinges on further exploration of the clinical wisdom of experienced therapists. It's also worthy of carrying out theoretical exploration from different approaches and perspectives, which might ultimately explain setbacks in the process of assimilation and lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of the psychotherapy process.

Key words: therapeutic zone of proximal development, assimilation model, setbacks, therapeutic collaboration, psychotherapy process

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