Therapeutic Partnership | Holistic Nutrition Lab by functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama

Therapeutic Partnership

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One of my favorite tenets of the Functional Medicine model is that of the therapeutic partnership—a constructive relationship established between patient and practitioner.

Yet my concern with the common interpretation of this term is that we continue to put pressures and expectations on the practitioner to walk over hot coals or extend herself beyond reason, without a full understanding of what a therapeutic partnership actually entails.

It’s not one where you become the servant to your client’s every whim. Nor is it one where your client simply listens to your wisdom (without sharing her own) and takes orders.

So, what is a real therapeutic partnership?

Great question!


The therapeutic partnership is one where both you, the practitioner, and your client are open and vulnerable to the insights revealed by the clinical process.

You’re vulnerable, not because you share your own life saga, but because you freely admit that you do not have a quick-fix.

Because you two are just getting to know each other, it’s not assumed (or it shouldn’t be) that you’d have all the answers to their every problem from the first encounter. (How could you?)

You do not have a magic pill or a silver bullet solution. What you do have is time, dedication, attention, physiological comprehension, and trustworthy frameworks that will help guide you towards the answers your client needs.

A therapeutic partnership is a relationship where history is established and connections are made that enable the clinician to see the appropriate path more clearly and the patient to make incremental and meaningful changes.

The therapeutic partnership slowly but surely changes the terrain for your client (which is where the healing really happens). Their internal terrain makes a shift through the diet, lifestyle and therapeutic interventions you employ, and the healing terrain (and potential) shift because the relationship itself changes the hormonal milieu.

Did you catch that last part? It’s so important, I’ll say it again:

The healing potential of your client will shift in response to your interactions with her because the relationship itself changes the hormonal milieu.

Trust and Empathy

Trust and empathy lead to a chemical environment that induces the healing potential. You have the opportunity to activate the transformation from stuck to healing with the practice of Functional empathy.

When both you and your client have the opportunity to be vulnerable in a way that only you can provide, two magical things happen:

  1. Answers are uncovered, and people who might have lost hope can now get well
  2. The relationship itself causes oxytocin to flow in both you and your client. This creates more trust and connection, while reducing your client’s desire for the quick-fix. In other words, the oxytocin helps her open up, comply, and stick to the goals you and she set.

The problem you’re facing in your practice today could be anything from noncompliance, to not finding resolution (root cause) for your clients, to feeling like your clients are holding back information or emotions, to feeling like you just don’t know enough to help them.

The solution is the therapeutic partnership. It’s the terrain in which healing happens.

Related Blog Posts:

Root Cause
How to make empathy an asset instead of a liability in your practice
Part 1: What’s Functional and what’s not
Part 2: What’s Functional and what’s not
Part 3: What’s Functional and what’s not

Functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama (FNLP, MSN, CNC, CNE, CHHC) is leading patients and practitioners around the world in a revolution to reclaim ownership over our own health. Her passion for food as personalized medicine was born from the loss of her young husband to a brain tumor in 2002. She’s now regularly consulted as the nutrition expert for the toughest clinical cases in the practices of many world-renowned doctors, and trains a thousand practitioners online each year in her methodologies at Functional Nutrition Lab. Learn more about Andrea here.

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Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this post. It’s so true. Over years of practicing this is one thing I’ve struggled mightily with. Empathy and connection with healthy boundaries and expectations inside the relationship. It just about made me quit practicing. Needy people have been a drug for me to satiate my own need to be needed (blech) and of course, health practice is a perfect venue for that. Not any more. I’ve learned how God meets my needs, every one of them, so now I’m free to establish these relationships with my clients, speak truth in love to them,… Read more »