I listen closely when anyone says, “My therapist told me….”. Why? Because it’s cheaper than actual therapy and less daunting than having to confide in a person I just met. That’s how I thought therapy worked, the therapist and client meet, the client shares his/her experience, then the therapist implements a treatment plan, and from there on, the client progresses and never looks back. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Therapy is much more complex than the above exchange between two friends, and it is far more healing. It starts with rapport-building between the therapist and client. Rapport-building is one of the most intricate tasks of psychotherapy, as it is the foundation on which the therapist and client connect and construct a helping relationship.
A good rapport translates into a safe environment for the client. This smooths the way for full disclosure by the client without fear of judgment or rejection. Initially, this trust is conditional. Once acquainted with the therapist, clients usually describe their problems in a superficial manner, despite existing rapport.
As the rapport deepens, so does the sharing. It’s one of the many reasons therapy can last so long. Implementing a treatment plan can take months because understanding the patient’s subjective experience in an open, unbiased manner takes time and expertise. Therapists must set aside their prejudices when interpreting a client’s experience. Clients often present bits and pieces of information over multiple sessions, which must be woven together to get the big picture. This is time-consuming, and clients’ conscious and unconscious resistances can slow down the process further.
Therapeutic rapport is built on a foundation of active listening, empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard. Once rapport has been established and clients begin to share their suffering, there often comes a plunge in the clients’ mental health. This drop, which can be attributed to the verbalization, expression, and experiencing of distressing events and emotions, can be exceptionally difficult for both parties to handle, though expected by the therapist.
After several months or even years of holding back in therapy, the client begins to open up. This often leads to a phase of worsening mental health which makes clients feel “this isn’t working for me, and is making things worse than they were.” A few factors prevent clients from dropping out at this point. Trust and respect for the therapist and a good rapport can cause clients to reconsider this decision.
Sometimes, therapists’ exploration of previously withheld topics can accelerate clients’ wishes to quit therapy. However, with gradual resolution of these issues, clients get closer to the therapist, possibly even more than they were initially when rapport and trust between the two were starting to develop.
While the bond between therapists and clients is essential, this closeness sometimes prevents them from working towards an end to therapy once clients’ issues are resolved. Once again, the therapeutic rapport helps break the impasse. Clients’ trust in the therapist helps them believe the reassurances that they will be able to handle their problems themselves even after therapy is completed. Seasoned therapists prepare clients by consistently reminding them that treatment will be ending and reducing the frequency of sessions, normalizing their absence in their clients’ lives.
In conclusion, therapy is a healing experience, but there is often a phase of worsening mental health during which a good rapport between the therapist and client is crucial. In this respect, psychotherapy is essentially a healing rollercoaster ride, minus the adrenaline, for therapists and clients.
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About the Author: Surabhi Roy is pursuing a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, and holds a BSc(Hons) degree in Psychology with Management. She has undergone additional training in Adolescent Mental Health First Aid. She is also a keen Mental Health advocate.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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