Establishing Rapport with a Client
To work well with a client, we need to establish rapport with them. Rapport is important, whatever model of counselling the counsellor is working with.
Rapport means a sense of having connection with the person.
Rapport will be helped and facilitated by how the counsellor manages their own feelings towards the client, and how they behave with the client.
Unless a client feels a sense of rapport, they will be unlikely to be able to work well with the counsellor.
To establish rapport with the client, the counsellor needs to think about:
- Being well prepared for the session, unrushed, calm, ready and prepared to be there for the client, putting their own issues and problems out of the way, for the duration of the session.
- Making a safe and trusting environment, including taking the trouble to make the setting appealing; offering a restful, clean, uncluttered and pleasant setting; providing comfy seating and perhaps a cup of tea; and ensuring there are absolutely no intrusions, and that the room is soundproofed.
- Being aware of who the client is, including (for second and follow-on sessions) knowing the client's name, and remembering key things about their issues (through taking the time to read last week’s notes).
- Offering empathy, making an effort to be there with and for the client, and trying to see how the client feels about and sees things (which is likely to be different from the counsellor's perception).
- Having an accepting manner, including remaining unshocked, whatever the client brings; being non-judgemental, however much the client's behaviour surprises or appalls us; offering unconditional positive regard (UPR) to the client, however they have been behaving; and maintaining respect for the person (though not always condoning the behaviour).
- Being unrushed, allowing the client time; letting the client stay with whatever feelings come up, without trying to solve all the problems at that moment; and being patient with clients who find it hard to talk about themselves.
- Being congruent: being honest, in a well-considered and kindly way; and not being 'brutally honest' in a confrontational or rude way, but gently challenging dysfunctional beliefs and behaviours, when the time is right.
If rapport is established, the client will grow to trust the counsellor, and a good foundation is laid for real growth and healing to occur.
Reflection: How do you know when someone is building rapport with you?
Strategies counsellors use to develop rapport
- Discuss the client’s reason for attending counselling and what they hope will change as a result.
- Explain the purpose of the counselling contact and what it is for.
- Be receptive and responsive to any questions the client might ask.
Counselling skills used to develop rapport
- Active listening - it's not just about listening – it’s also about ensuring that the client feels heard. To do this, we must also respond respectfully
- Use of silence - silence enables the client space to process their thoughts and feelings without distraction
- Reflecting and paraphrasing - allows the client to perceive that they are being understood completely
- Thoughtful use of questions
"Building rapport is as much about you as a person than any techniques or skills ... Clients are drawn to build relationships with people who are caring, trustful and show interest in them."
The counselling environment
Make sure the environment is suitably welcoming for the client.
Pay attention to the following things:
- Are the room and furnishings comfortable and welcoming for the client?
- Is the temperature of the room suitable for counselling to take place?
- Confidentiality: Does the room provide a confidential and safe space for the client to explore their difficulties?
You as the counsellor
Building rapport is as much about you as a person than any techniques or skills.
Be thoughtful that clients (like most people) are drawn to build relationships with people who are caring, trustful and show interest in them.
You can do this by:
- Creating a warm and respectful environment
- Offering the "core conditions"
- Establishing credibility by offering a thoughtful and professional service
The importance of building rapport with a client
Griffin (2006) offers the following observations on the importance of rapport building and forming an ongoing therapeutic relationship:
“Counseling is a client-centered process that leads to new behaviors. Building on a foundation of caring, rapport, and comfort, we help clients commit to changing their habits. We keep our clients at the center of this process by listening more than we talk and by encouraging them to learn from their own experiences. Counseling is an opportunity to help clients develop more options—to lead clients to open new doors, throw off chains, and stretch!”
Griffin, J. (2006). Client-centered exercise prescription. Illinois: Human Kinetics, p.6.