Charles Gelso

Charles J. Gelso, who was born on November 27, 1941, in Pittston, Pennsylvania, has been a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Maryland for most of his career. He is the author of more than 110 articles in professional counseling journals, as well as 10 book chapters and 4 books. His scholarship addresses issues such as the research training environment, time-limited counseling, research methodology, and the psychotherapy relationship. His articles on research methodology and the psychotherapy relationship, in particular, are among the most frequently cited writings in the field of counseling psychology. Gelso was the editor of the Journal of Counseling Psychology from 1982 to 1987, and in 2005 he began a term as the editor of Psychotherapy that will run through 2009. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, and the American Psychological Society. He received the 2003 Distinguished Psychologist Award from the American Psychological Association’s Division of Psychotherapy, and the 1996 Leona Tyler Award for career achievement in, and outstanding contributions to, the field of counseling psychology from the American Psychological Association’s Society for Counseling Psychology.

Research Methodology

Gelso developed a taxonomy for classifying and thinking about counseling research. According to this taxonomy, counseling research can be categorized as occurring in the field or in the laboratory, and variables can be experimentally controlled or naturally observed. Research that is conducted in the field has high external validity (i.e., its results generalize more readily to actual counseling than research conducted in the laboratory). Studies in which the researcher exerts experimental control by manipulating independent variables allow for causal statements to be made about the effects of the independent variable(s) on the dependent variable(s). Such studies are said to have high internal validity.

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Gelso noted that each type of research has advantages and disadvantages and that no study is perfect. This last idea he called the bubble hypothesis, likening it to the notion of an air bubble that gets caught under a windshield sticker. One can move the bubble around but not eliminate it entirely. Similarly, researchers can try to correct for the flaws that exist in previous research on a topic, but they can never remove all of the flaws in any one study. In short, a perfect study cannot be conducted.

The Psychotherapy Relationship

Gelso conceptualized the relationship between the therapist and client as consisting of the working alliance, the real relationship (i.e., clients’ and therapists’ realistic perceptions of each other and the extent to which each is authentic with the other), transference (i.e., the client’s unconscious redirection of feelings and personal issues onto the therapist), and countertransference (i.e., the projection of therapists’ unresolved personal issues onto the client). Gelso and his colleagues developed a measure of the real relationship that allowed research to be done in this area. His systematic program of research on countertransference identified factors that contribute to counter-transference, the effects of countertransference on the therapy process, and strategies therapists can use to manage their countertransference reactions.


  1. Gelso, C. J. (1979). Research in counseling: Methodological and professional issues. The Counseling Psychologist, 8, 7-36.
  2. Gelso, C. J., & Carter, J. (1985). The relationship in counseling and psychotherapy: Components, consequences, and theoretical antecedents. The Counseling Psychologist, 13, 155-243.
  3. Gelso, C. J., & Fretz, B. R. (2001). Counseling psychology (2nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.

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