Why Rapport Matters in Therapy

Building rapport with your clients is perhaps the most important of clinical skills to possess. It is estimated that 40% of clients choose another therapist due to the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

Some studies have even suggested that therapeutic rapport is a more critical factor in the client’s progress than any other specific therapy technique. And the converse is true as well. If rapport is not formed, it is almost impossible for forward progress to be made in therapy.

In the world of therapy, rapport refers to the relationship between the client and therapist. Rapport includes the connection, the trust, the sharing, the safety, the communication, and the dynamic of a relationship.

When it comes to any relationship between two people, for that relationship to be founded upon healthy rapport, particular characteristics will need to be present. What helps one person to feel that connection may be quite the opposite of what someone else needs to feel the connection.

Regarding the rapport between client and therapist, the therapist must genuinely engage with the client. This includes active listening, authentic reactions, and expressing true empathy.

Easy and Effective Ways to Build Rapport

1. Competence

It should seem quite obvious, but probably the quickest and most effective way to destroy rapport with a client is to be incompetent. Face it, if the client sees that you don’t know what you are doing, then he/she isn’t very likely to trust you.

Before you take on the client, be sure that you have the proper training and experience to do the job well. If you are not competent to treat a certain issue, be honest, and refer if necessary.

And if once you begin working with the client you hit an impasse, or are at a loss as to what you should do, immediately get the help you need, further research the issue, or if possible do whatever is necessary to make yourself competent. If not, consider reaching out to one of your colleagues if such an option is available.

2. Empathy

Empathy is the most potent tool in developing rapport. Building a meaningful connection with your clients requires feeling what they feel. This could mean that you should cry when they cry, or you allow yourself to feel angry when they feel anger. Relating emotionally with the client gives you greater insight into what your client is feeling, which can help to better understand your client.

Understanding and empathizing with what they are feeling helps your clients feel heard and cared for, which solidifies the foundation of rapport. Sympathizing alone while necessary is insufficient. You need to truly attempt to see things the way they do, understand why they feel the way they do, and put yourself in their shoes.

3. Respect

Remember that this is a person sitting across from you who deserves to be treated as one. Showing respect, treating them with the same respect you would of anyone else forms a trusting bond. Do not judge them for what they tell you, and accept them for who they are.

This may seem obvious, but from your very first contact treat the client as an important person. Start sessions on time, dress professionally, have the paperwork ready for them, etc. Respect their time as much as you do your own. Imagine how you would like to be treated as a client, and adjust your behavior accordingly.

4. Listening

Active listening skills are also critical in building healthy rapport. Hearing what the client said is not enough. You need to convey this to the client. Body language, making reassuring gestures and comments, paraphrasing what was heard, and making sure to remember what you have been told, are all ways to show you are listening. And if necessary, ask for clarification to show that you care about everything that was said.

At times it could be the smallest detail that can provide the most significant clue as to what is going on; without active listening, you can miss these clues and inadvertently impair the relationship.

The importance of active listening in all therapy cannot be overstated, however, it is even more crucial in remote therapy where body language can be less evident. The bottom line is that before you make any attempt at an intervention, you must show the client that you understand where he/she is coming from. It may sound silly, but it can be helpful to visualize yourself as a tiny being inside the client’s head.

5. Genuineness

Being genuine is essential in developing a healthy rapport with your client. Being genuine means that you see the client as another human being, and can relate beyond the therapist-client relationship. When the client senses that the therapist is genuine, it opens the door to soothing the client’s anxiety and promotes more helpful feedback which will enhance the therapy’s progress.

This begins with being honest and forthright in your interactions, and in addressing sensitive questions that the client may ask regarding your commitment to his/her privacy. Don’t make up a story to reinforce a point or to give the impression that you are more authoritative or experienced than you are.

Alternatively, distrust is perhaps the quickest and most effective way to destroy whatever rapport you have already established. The more genuine you are in the way you react, and the more that your thoughts are imbued with integrity, the quicker and more fully will your client genuinely believe that you are trustworthy.

Building rapport can take time

As with anything in life that has true value, building rapport is organic and as such will take time. You can’t expedite the process. This can present a challenge if your therapy is going to be for only a limited time.

But whatever the circumstance may be, it’s a step that just can’t be skipped. Since the therapist-client relationship is completely contingent on the therapist’s rapport with the client, rapport is the most essential factor in the room.