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Published On: February 6, 2017|Categories: Clinician’s Corner|

The relationship a person has with a therapist or counselor is often called the “therapeutic alliance.” This bond of trust and growth is the key to successful healing and effective practice. If you’re a counselor, social worker, therapist or other mental health specialist, here’s what you need to know about the partnership within counseling relationships.

What is the therapeutic alliance?

The relationship between a mental health care expert and a client is called the therapeutic relationship, or therapeutic alliance. This relationship can be appropriate, professional and useful resulting in a positive experience for the client. The relationship can also be ineffective for a variety of reasons.

The quality of counseling relationships are a quantifiable factor when evaluating client overcomes. The American Psychological Association conducted a study on 16 meta-analyses regarding the therapeutic alliance, and found that a trusting and consistent relationship was a higher indicator of success than the mode of therapy.

How do I build a solid counselor-client relationship?

The counseling partnership should not be taken lightly in professional practice. But building that partnership is easier said than done. If you’re looking for tools to improve a counselor-client relationship, here are a few you should try out.

  1. Be honest

The best way to build a strong counselor-client relationship is to be open and honest. The only way to find true healing is to address the presenting concerns, regardless of how personal, embarrassing or scary, they may feel. In order to process the past and make goals for the future, you have to embrace reality and share it with someone.

2. Commit to doing work outside of treatment

While counseling is a safe haven to contemplate and problem-solve through the events of your life, a good chunk of the hard work you do will be outside of the office. Your counselor or therapist is likely to give you homework, or tools to practice and implement in your daily life. Following through shows that the effort is mutual.

3. Demonstrate a positive outlook

Research shows that a client’s belief in the possibility of therapy making a difference can actually have a real impact on the functional outcomes of treatment. As a client or a practitioner, expressing not only your desire but your belief that therapy can create real change is important. Trusting the individual and the process itself can produce real results.

4. Reflect on progress

Working with a counselor or therapist for several months should start to produce outcomes. Outcomes could include increased quality of life, a decrease in symptoms, an improved outlook regarding the future or reaching established goals in a treatment plan. When you can identify benchmarks you’ve achieved, you’ll know the counselor-client relationship is working.

What are some tips for connecting with a counselor?

Counselors have training and experience in connecting with clients, but it’s not always as easy the other way around. Especially if you’re new to therapy it’s normal to feel some trepidation as you share your personal life with a stranger.

If you’re hoping to engage with a new counselor and benefit from the bond of a therapeutic alliance, try out these tips in your next few sessions.

  • Write a gratitude list after a session: consider jotting down five things or insights you’re thankful for from your previous session. They could be reflections your counselor shared or her way of listening and offering affirmations.
  • Share a compliment with your counselor: counseling relationships aren’t supposed to be like friendships in your life, as the relationship serves an entirely unique purpose. However, you can make the bond more reciprocal by sharing a compliment or thank you with your provider.
  • Open up about something sensitive: it’s likely you trust your counselor more than you know, and sometimes we don’t realize that until we share something personal. If you feel like you haven’t made progress in the past few sessions or are eager to make a change, share something you’ve been keeping to yourself that you feel needs to be addressed.
  • Take a pen and paper: your mental health professional may take notes during or after sessions, to remember goals, personal details or areas you want to work on. Consider doing the same yourself. You don’t need to take notes summarizing the session, but maybe write down a few insights that could improve your week and put them somewhere you’ll revisit them.

Connecting with clients and practitioners may feel uncomfortable at first, but when you have mutual respect and trust each other, real change can start to happen. A counseling partnership can have a lifelong impact, helping you find freedom and recovery from mental illness.

If you’re looking for care for a mental health condition, check out the Light Program. With programs for adults and teens, you’ll find personalized care from compassionate staff. Each counselor is trained to offer compassionate, non-judgmental care that is backed by evidence-based treatment. Create meaningful change in your life and contact us now to schedule an appointment.

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