What Is Validation in Therapy & Why Is It Important?

Validation in TherapyValidation means that you understand where the other person is coming from, even if you disagree with what they say or do (Rather & Miller, 2015).

Recognizing that someone’s feelings and thoughts make sense can show that we are listening nonjudgmentally and can help build stronger relationships, especially in therapy.

It can be tricky. Crucially, we need to validate what the person feels, but not always their behavior (Rather & Miller, 2015).

This article explores the role and importance of validation in therapy before introducing helpful worksheets to improve validation skills and support a positive outcome.

What Is Validation in Therapy? 9 Examples

Validation within therapy encourages and supports the understanding and acceptance of the client’s experiences, both verbally and nonverbally. It signifies that clients are heard and that their behavior is understandable (even if not appropriate) in their given context (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017).

Validation is part of the process that establishes the truth or validity of what is said in therapy (American Psychological Association, 2020).

Types of validation in therapy sessions vary, yet they typically include the following (Rather & Miller, 2015; Dietz, n.d.; Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017):

  • Active listening – remaining focused, attentive, and in the moment while maintaining eye contact

  • Mindfully responding – monitoring verbal and nonverbal reactions to what is said

  • Reflecting without judgment – recognizing and verbalizing what the client is feeling (such as, “I can see you are having a tough time at the moment”)

  • Being tolerant – even if not in agreement with the client’s behavior, considering their history and how their thoughts and feelings may make sense

  • Showing that what they say is taken seriously – such as acknowledging that something happening sounds awful, offering a tissue, or asking, “What do you need right now?” Acceptance throughout the session is crucial.

  • Restating what was said – summarizing and simplifying what is said (verbally and nonverbally) by the client by providing accurate reflection (such as, “You think it is unfair that you do all the housework, and you would like things to change.”)

  • Focusing on behaviors – pointing out that the current behavior may be unhelpful and has not always worked in the past

  • Treating the person as an equal – seeing the client as an equal and showing them the respect they deserve

  • Radical genuineness – believing in the client’s strengths and respecting that they are capable of change

 

Why Is Validation Important?

Therapeutic AllianceThe relationship between the therapist and client, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a crucial indicator of a successful outcome in therapy (Eubanks, Burckell, & Goldfried, 2018).

The process of validation underpins that alliance during treatment. The therapist’s understanding and acceptance are vital aspects of the therapeutic process, ultimately encouraging growth (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017).

Confidence in such a trust-related relationship supports the client as they “explore and attempt the tasks that lead to therapeutic change and growth” (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017, p. 319).

Validation in therapy supports the process through a combination of the following (Rather & Miller, 2015):

  • Improving relationships – particularly the therapeutic alliance
  • Deescalating intense emotions and conflict
  • Communicating that the client is:
    • Listened to
    • Understood
    • Not being judged
  • Disagreeing with the client when appropriate yet avoiding major conflict

Validation in therapy creates a positive environment for treatment, helping the client feel accepted, understood, and not judged, and strengthens the bond between therapist and client (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017).

 

The Psychology Behind Validation

Research continues to provide support for the value of validation in therapy and elsewhere. It confirms that the content of the message must remain crucial (Tian, Solomon, & Brisini, 2020).

As far back as 1997, Marsha Linehan recognized that validation involves both empathic understanding and communication. Empathy alone is not sufficient; therapy must go further, drawing conclusions and communicating what was heard (Linehan, 1997).

Messages of support have the power to help those facing a variety of stressors by improving their degree of self-confidence and self-esteem, reducing psychological distress.

Supporting behaviors perceived as beneficial can result in the helper being recognized as sensitive and considerate. Other actions viewed as unhelpful may result in psychological reactance, promoting unwanted behavior (Tian et al., 2020).

When handled carefully and with sensitivity, support messages can provide the required validation to help people during challenging times in their lives, such as illness, marital disagreement, and poor physical health (Tian et al., 2020).

 

6 Helpful Validation Worksheets

Validating othersThe following worksheets can help you develop your validation skills (inside and outside therapy) and become better at hearing, accepting, and understanding what the other person has to say.

 

How Are You Validating Other People?

Use the How Are You Validating Other People? worksheet to review a recent session with a client and assess how well you validated them, verbally and nonverbally (modified from Rather & Miller, 2015).

Reflect on an earlier session or part of a session, consider your validation skills and techniques, and answer the following questions:

  • Were you actively listening?
  • Were you mindful of your verbal/nonverbal reactions?
  • Could you sum up what they were feeling in a word?
  • Were you able to reflect back on what they said without judgment?
  • Did you show tolerance?
  • Did you respond in such a way that showed you were taking the other person seriously?

Reflect on each answer. What went well? What could you do better next time?

 

What Is Your Validating Style?

The What Is Your Validating Style? worksheet is a helpful way to practice and verify your validation skills in any situation (modified from Linehan, 2015).

  • Describe a situation where you were successful at being nonjudgmental in the past week.
  • Describe a situation where you were successful at using your validation skills in the past week.

Then consider whether there is anything you would say or do differently the next time a similar situation arises.

 

Levels of Validation

Validation can be performed at several levels and assessed using the Levels of Validation worksheet (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017; Linehan 1997).

Consider your ability to validate and the level you are typically validating at:

  • Level one – Am I mindfully listening?
    Do I listen with empathy? Do I stop what I am doing and pay full attention?

  • Level two – Am I accurately reflecting and acknowledging what is being said?
    Am I able to play back the essence of what has been said, showing an accurate understanding?

  • Level three – Can I articulate the nonverbalized emotions, thoughts, and behavior?
    Can I ask follow-up questions that confirm what the person is feeling or thinking?

  • Level four – Can I place the problem behavior in a broader context?
    Do I consider the impact of how the person’s past has shaped and developed their existing problem behavior?

  • Level five – Can I normalize and attend to the present context?
    Do I use phrases such as, “This makes sense to me, considering…”?

  • Level six – Do I use radical genuineness?
    Do I see the other person as fragile and unable to change, or do I treat them with equality and respect?

 

Neutralizing Judgmental Thoughts

Sometimes it is difficult to avoid judging someone based on how they look, behave, or what they say.

In the Neutralize Judgmental Thoughts worksheet, we use the acronym CLEAR to adopt a less critical outlook when dealing with others (modified from Linehan, 2015).

  • Categorize your thoughts and recognize any judgments.
  • Leave behind any thoughts that adopt a (good or bad) “should” viewpoint.
  • Evaluate the consequences and benefits of the actions.
  • Accept the reality.
  • Remind yourself that things often make sense because of the reasons around them and the context in which they happened.

 

Self-Validation and Self-Respect

Clients can use the process of validation on themselves as a positive method for improving self-confidence and self-esteem.

Try out the Self-Validation and Self-Respect worksheet with your client to improve their self-validation skills.

  • Consider three self-validating statements you have used in the past week, such as:
    • I reminded myself that there is a cause to all behavior and that I am doing my best.
    • I was compassionate to myself.
    • I admitted to myself that it is hard when someone invalidates me, even when they are correct.
    • I acknowledged that my reactions made sense and are valid in this context.
    • Any others?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What worked? What could you do differently?

 

Validating Your Child’s Opposite Sides

It can be difficult letting children experience conflicting thoughts and emotions, yet it is a crucial part of their development and an important use of validation.

Use the Validating Your Child’s Opposite Sides worksheet to help the child see that it is possible to hold more than one, seemingly conflicting, thought or belief (modified from Linehan, 2015).

Ask the child to review the following list of opposites that can both be true:

  • You can be tough and gentle.
  • You can be independent and want help.
  • You can want to be alone and want to be connected with others.
  • You can be with others and be lonely.
  • You can accept yourself and still want to change.
  • You may have good reason to believe what you believe and still be wrong.
  • The day can be sunny, and it can rain.
  • You can disagree with rules and follow them.

Explain to the child that sometimes we must accept that we can hold many different and sometimes confusing thoughts, and that we should be accepting and compassionate (self-validating) with ourselves.

 

25 Validation Statements to Use in Therapy

Using the right verbal cues and wording is essential for successful validation in therapy; examples include the following (modified from Validating statements, n.d.):

  • What do you need from me now?
  • How can I help?
  • What was that like for you?
  • This must be difficult for you.
  • How is this affecting you?
  • How are you feeling?
  • You are not alone.
  • Can I help you with some problem solving?
  • What does safety (happiness, etc.) mean for you?
  • I’m sorry to hear that.
  • I hear what you are saying.
  • I believe you.
  • I understand.
  • I hear you.
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • It sounds like you did your best.
  • Most people would have reacted in that way.
  • I am so sorry that happened, and I am so glad you are here.
  • I can’t imagine what you went through.
  • You are very strong and brave.
  • I can see that you are very (sad, upset, frightened, etc.).
  • I can see you are making an effort.
  • It must make you feel horrible to have someone do that to you.
  • I would be (scared, upset, sad, etc.) too.
  • I don’t have the same beliefs, but I can see this is important to you.

 

Validation in DBT: A Brief Explanation

The importance of validationValidation plays a significant role in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

As one of its core strategies, validation helps clients learn and implement skills for themselves (Carson-Wong, Hughes, & Rizvi, 2018).

As DBT is seen as a client-centered therapy, it is vital that the client feels understood, accepted, and equal to the therapist. Only then can the client focus entirely on acquiring effective skills and appropriate cognitive-behavioral strategies to grow and change (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017).

In DBT, validation signals that the therapist understands the client’s behavior, acknowledging their thoughts and emotions within their existing context. For therapy to be successful, that understanding must be communicated back to the client, recognizing rather than dismissing the meaning and importance of the experience to them (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017).

 

The Power of Validation in All Relationships

Validation supports the therapeutic alliance; it also develops and maintains positive relationships outside therapy, within the family, friendships, and the workplace (Rather & Miller, 2015).

When confronted by difficult conversations or criticism without validation, we can react with anger or by shutting down. When we feel unheard and misunderstood, communication can fall apart and even, when unresolved, lead to more permanent damage to relationships (Brown, 2015).

Validation has the power and potential to reduce misunderstandings and result in a more productive, less confrontational conversation, where unnecessarily harsh criticism is reduced or avoided altogether.

 

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

We have many worksheets that will help you improve understanding, empathy, communication, and emotional awareness.

Some of these worksheets were selected from our very own Positive Psychology Toolkit©, where we provide over 370 tools and assessments, plus access to the positive psychology community.

Try out the following with your clients and work on your (and their) validation techniques:

  • Building Emotional Awareness
    Emotional intelligence requires noticing and understanding the emotions in ourselves and others. This worksheet helps your client mindfully become more aware of their own and others’ emotions.

  • Reading Racial Expressions of Emotions
    This convenient tool will help the client develop an awareness of nonverbal cues and recognize emotions.

  • Breathing Together
    This worksheet promotes mindfulness and improves the nonjudgmental attention we pay to one another, forming deeper, long-lasting bonds.

  • Wise Mind Chair Work
    This worksheet introduces us to the idea that we have a reasonable mind, an emotional mind, and a wise mind. Through practice, we can identify which one we are using and become better at adopting the one appropriate for the situation.

  • Radical Acceptance Worksheet
    Using this worksheet will help the client learn to identify, consider, and understand a situation they find difficult to accept.

  • Emotion Regulation Worksheet
    Learn to identify and evaluate emotions using six powerful questions.

  • 17 Positive Communication Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others communicate better, this collection contains 17 validated positive communication tools for practitioners. Use them to help others improve their communication skills and form deeper and more positive relationships.

 

A Take-Home Message

The process and outcome of validation are valuable in any relationship, yet crucial in therapy, promoting the therapeutic alliance that ultimately predicts treatment outcome.

Validation signifies to the other person that they are heard.

In therapy, the client feels acknowledged and understood and is being shown empathy (Kocabas & Üstündağ‐Budak, 2017).

Beyond promoting relationships, validation is also a valuable method for acknowledging what is said by the client, while encouraging early clarification of misunderstandings and inaccuracies. Furthermore, the therapist can use the techniques to deescalate difficult situations and give confidence to the client that they are not being judged and have valid fears, hopes, concerns, and anxieties (Rather & Miller, 2015).

Not all validation is equal. Any response from the therapist must be seen as positive and helpful, promoting growth and learning in the client, rather limiting or damaging.

When done well and with sensitivity, validation offers valuable support during difficult life events and confirms that emotions are acceptable and make sense.

While integral to DBT, validation is crucial to all listening therapies. The therapist and therapeutic process benefit from clear and transparent communication by acknowledging what the client says.

The worksheets included in this article provide a practical way to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of existing validation approaches. We can use them to highlight opportunities for growth and improvement, ultimately benefiting the therapist, client, and overall therapeutic outcome.

  • American Psychological Association. (2020). APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/validation
  • Brown, B. (2015). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Avery.
  • Carson-Wong, A., Hughes, C. D., & Rizvi, S. L. (2018). The effect of therapist use of validation strategies on change in client emotion in individual DBT treatment sessions. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 9(2), 165–171.
  • Dietz, L. (n.d.). Validation examples. DBT Self Help. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/validation_examples.html
  • Eubanks, C. F., Burckell, L. A., & Goldfried, M. R. (2018). Clinical consensus strategies to repair ruptures in the therapeutic alliance. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 28(1), 60–76.
  • Kocabas, E., & Üstündağ‐Budak, M. (2017). Validation skills in counselling and psychotherapy. International Journal of Scientific Study, 5(8), 319‐322.
  • Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. In A. C. Bohart & L. S. Greenberg (Eds.), Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy (pp. 353–392). American Psychological Association.
  • Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets. Guilford Press.
  • Rather, J. H., & Miller, A. (2015). DBT skills manual for adolescents. Guilford Press.
  • Tian, X., Solomon, D. H., & Brisini, K. S. C. (2020). How the comforting process fails: Psychological reactance to support messages. Journal of Communication, 70(1), 13–34.
  • Validating statements. (n.d.). Epower & Associates. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from https://traumainformedcare.com/TIC_PDF/Validating_statements.pdf

About the Author

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.

Comments

  1. Raghu Menon

    Very well presented and useful

    Reply
  2. MADELYN TORRES ARANGO

    Very useful

    Reply
  3. Silvia Ilisastigui

    I have been an educator and currently working as customer service online. Some of these communication issues carry over in dealing with adults and many of the educational issues have parents debating your style of communication. It’s unfortunate that emotions run high and to reciprocate that communication in a tangible way, you’re getting beat up by misunderstandings, lies, and anger about the issues.
    Your points are valid and give presidencies to the issues but it gets a little deeper when trying to decompress after the fact. My problem is not being Able to keep eye contact and smile while they are screaming then rehash the event with your boss, defending yourself in an strong yet equitable way.

    Reply

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