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Immediacy in Counselling

What is Immediacy?

Feltham and Dryden (1993: 88) describe immediacy as ‘the key skill of focusing attention on the here and now relationship of counsellor and client with helpful timing, in order to challenge defensiveness and/or heighten awareness’.

Using immediacy means that the therapist reveals how they themselves are feeling in response to the client.

Counsellor practices immediacy in counselling during client session

Feltham and Dryden (1993: 89) explain, however, that immediacy is ‘not the same as simply saying whatever comes into one’s head, but a rapidly calculated disclosure of the counsellor’s present experience in relation to the client’.

Free Download: Examples of Immediacy in Counselling Download

Risks of Immediacy

If the use of immediacy backfires, it can (hopefully only temporarily) rupture the counsellor–client relationship, with the client feeling misunderstood.

Because established trust and a sound therapeutic relationship are needed in this situation to rebuild the connection (i.e. relational depth: Mearns and Cooper, 2005), immediacy should not be used too early in therapy.

It is one of the advanced counselling skills, and is therefore best tried once the therapist has built some experience in counselling.


Using immediacy means that the therapist reveals how they themselves are feeling in response to the client.


Benefits of Immediacy

If immediacy does go well, however, the benefits can be huge, with the client feeling strongly that they have been heard and understood. It can also really help with focusing in counselling.

Immediacy in Person-Centred Counselling

Immediacy may seem at first sight to sit poorly with person-centred theory, which advocates the therapist being completely in the client’s frame of reference.

It is the one time that a person-centred counsellor will speak from their own frame of reference, expressing an instinctive feeling that feels important to share with the client.


It is not only outside the client's frame of reference; but it is also probably not even on the client’s edge of awareness. It comes from your own frame of reference as the therapist – a gut feeling so strong that you are drawn to share it.


Example of Immediacy

Imagine that you’re working with an adult male client (Kelly, 2017: 61). As he speaks about his experiences, he suddenly appears to you very much like a small boy who is lost.

In this situation, you might observe: ‘As you say that, I sense that you look like a lost little boy.’

This is not only outside the client’s frame of reference, but it is also probably not even on the client’s edge of awareness. It comes from your own frame of reference as the therapist – a gut feeling so strong that you are drawn to share it. As such, it keys into implicit processes in counselling.

When the client processes your observation, he might do one of the following:

  • Accept your words, replying: ‘You’re right. That’s just how it feels. I’m right back to being seven again – that’s incredible.’It’s possible there will be silence, while the client revisits that time and place for him. In this case, you can be pleased that your immediacy had real resonance.
  • Look at you in confusion, as if he’s been suddenly disturbed in where he was. In this case, your instinct wasn’t right.In this case, it’s important to be congruent and say: ‘It looks like I got that wrong, and you’re not there at all?’ In this way, you would be inviting the client to share his feelings, bringing you both back fully to his own frame of reference.
  • Appear startled, and quickly deny that he was feeling like a young boy, while still looking very vulnerable to you.In this case, your immediacy may well have hit home, but the client is not yet ready to acknowledge and explore this.

    Perhaps you used immediacy too early on in the therapeutic relationship – or perhaps the client’s stage of process doesn’t yet allow him to drop his denial of his experience.

    Working at an appropriate pace in counselling may be a skill you need to work on honing.

Free Download: Examples of Immediacy in Counselling Download

References

Feltham C and Dryden W (1993) Dictionary of Counselling, Whurr Publishers

Kelly K (2017) Basic Counselling Skills: A Student Guide

Mearns D and Cooper M (2005) Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy, Sage

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