At the risk of assaulting a few egos, improving your client’s presenting condition – the only thing that counts in the business of psychotherapy and counseling – will not result from how much you know or think you know, how many workshops you’ve attended, how many letters you string behind your name or how many certifications you’ve earned.
What matters most is your ability and capacity to develop rapport. And the only way to do this is to be fully present when in the company of the client and to listen closely. The goal is to draw the client in, get them attracted to your maturity, professionalism, enthusiasm and ease of doing “business” with you. It’s not about having all the answers, it’s about asking the best questions – questions that aid you in assembling the puzzle pieces of the client’s situation that are so often vexing. If you ask lousy questions, no matter the response, they won’t be useful to reaching the contractual goals you’ve established with the client system.
I’ve found that in most instances, getting to the point of your work together, whether it in the first or the twentieth session, is best accomplished by taking a few minutes to chat about something both you and the client enjoy or have in common. This eases the transition to the more serious work yet to come. Also, match your communication style as best you can to the client’s. Mimic their speaking rhythm, mannerisms and determine how they learn best. Are they more auditory, visual or kinesthetic?
A touchier issue, difficult for many, is keeping one’s mouth shut. You must let the person speak without interruption. Enthusiasm is a core asset, but if unbridled, it can lead to your talking more than the client – a veritable recipe for a poor outcome because you won’t learn anything by talking.
Other ways and techniques for developing rapport include:
- Dressing professionally
- Displaying symbols of comfort in your office
- Discreetly taking notes during sessions
- Leaning slightly forward when addressing the client as a gesture of interest
- Continually soliciting the client’s beliefs and input when selecting treatment interventions
- Routinely instilling hope and optimism when discussing the prognosis of the client’s problem list
Skillfully engaging a client and getting them out of the doom-and-gloom loop and into the success loop isn’t contingent upon telling them everything you know. It’s about telling them what they need to know, pulling them in and getting them to trust that you’re the go-to professional for improving their plight.