**Prior to initial client contact, the student is strongly advised to review the basic microskills convered in Applied Practices I. These skills tend to decay over time if not used regularly and the best defense against this, besides supervision, is periodic review. **
Rapport is the feeling of confidence and harmony that exists between a client and a counselor. As one of the goals of a good counseling session; good rapport has practical consequences. The trust and confidence that you develop can greatly enhance your ability to manage a course of counseling, and it is the factor that is most likely going to keep your client coming back for more. But building rapport is also a principle method for gathering information. It helps motivate your client to talk spontaneously and reveal important personal data. The foundation for rapport is usually ready-made. Most clients come looking for help and expect that they'll get it from you, their counselor. Build on this expectation by your actions and words.
Right from the start, most clients expect to like their counselors. But real rapport between two individuals doesn't usually spring up overnight; it grows gradually. You can speed its development, however. Your attitude and demeanor are key. Remember that being professional is not the same thing as being starched and formal. If you appear relaxed, interested and understanding, your client is much more likely to feel safe and comfortable. Make eye contact frequently. Smiles and nods and, when appropriate to the content of the discussion, clarify that you are attentive and concerned. The client's own demeanor will probably shape your interaction more than any other factor. Body language provides one sort of obvious indicator of how your client feels. Observe tone of voice for other clues. Be careful to maintain a certain neutrality to what you're initially told. For example, if a client criticizes a relative, you would be unlikely to defend them. But if you join the criticism, you risk offending someone whose feelings may actually be ambivalent. Play it safe and use an empathetic response that doesn't take sides.
How you feel about the client can have important consequences and can be an important piece of data. If you're feeling positive, you will probably come across as warm and caring. Heavily influenced by your own background and upbringing, your feelings could, in turn, affect your ability to obtain and accurate picture of the client. Throughout the the interview you need to be aware of the nature and the sources of your feelings, especially when something in the client distresses you or makes you uncomfortable. It is important to carefully respond to this sort of client. They may sense your disapproval and frustrate your efforts to gather accurate information. The goal here is to show empathy, which means that at some level you are able to put yourself in the client's place. To help you with this, try asking yourself this question: "What would it be like to be this client talking with me right now?" Throughout your professional life, you will have to work with all sorts of people. Some of them will seem less agreeable than others, but you will find that there is something in nearly every client to which you can relate. If you can't respond positively to what you are being told, perhaps you can identify with some of the feelings behind it.
To establish rapport, you must let the client know that you understand. It is tempting to approach this directly by saying "I know how you must feel about..." Unhappily, this statement has something of a hollow ring to it. By the time they arrive in your office, most clients have heard it many times already. Some adult clients with serious problems, either real or perceived, feel that nobody could possibly appreciate what they are going through. When dealing with an adolescent, it must also be kept in mind that, because of their developmental level, the "personal fable" is in full bloom. You would probably be better off using some other response to suggest your compassion and interest: "You must have been really upset, " or "I've never been in that position before, so I can only imagine what it must have been like," "That was a terrible situation and I can see that it upset you a great deal." Experienced counselors sometimes find that their personalities seem almost to change as they move from one client to the next. They might seem a little folksy, or even rowdy, with one client, while adopting a more formal manner with another. Within limits, these behaviors are probably acceptable, although you should be careful not to overdo it to the point of "monkey see; monkey do."
Take pains to speak in terms that your client can understand. Listen to your client's language and use it, as long as you feel comfortable doing so. Because adolescents often distrust adults, they may respond more positively if you use language that is current for their generation. The other viewpoint on this issue is that teenage clients may resent it enormously if you try to adopt their speech patterns; they may become even more distrustful. How you speak to any client should be guided by the need for clarity and rapport, so monitor your client's reactions carefully. Certain terms may serve as red flags for many clients. These loaded words carry a message of illness, failure, or poor character, and you should generally avoid them. A brief sample: bad, brain damage, defective, crazy, fantasy, hysterical, neurotic, obscene . There are lots of them, and they can creep into a conversation before you know it. Generally speaking, avoid psychological jargon. Also, be sure that you understand your client's own use of language; don't assume that it is the same as yours. For example, to you "an occasional drink" may mean once a month, but to your client it could mean "intermittently throughout the day." If your client has a different ethnic background than you, you may have trouble understanding one another. Don't let your manner imply that it is the client who "talks funny." Rather, acknowledge that you have different accents and that you may have to ask one another for repetition.
How counselors relate to clients has been a moving target in recent years. The traditional image of an authoritarian individual who decides for the client has often been supplanted, thanks to Carl Rogers, by that of a less formal collaborator who explores problems and their solutions with the client. The latter style often encourages clients to participate in treatment decisions. This style, in effect, puts two minds at work. When clients discuss and contribute to their own management plans, they are more likely to go along with the process, and less likely to complain about how things are going. Yet even counselors who encourage friendly collaboration need to maintain boundaries. In general, it is not a good idea to reveal too much about yourself. Self-disclosure can be a powerful tool. When you are having trouble getting information from a client, you might be able to encourage greater cooperation by identifying something that you share. Also, according to the research disclosing information about the counselor's past is received better than information about the present. But a little bit goes a long way. You should also be careful about letting too much "small-talk" distract you for too long from the real purpose of the interview. There may be times when a client asks you a direct question about your personal life. If that happens, first try to understand what prompted the request. Some stem from simple curiosity; others may cloak concern about your training and your ability to help. Some requests for personal information may be prompted by a largely unconscious desire to achieve a sense of equality between counselor and client; others may be an attempt to avoid discussion of sensitive material. In some circumstances, personal information may seem relevant to your interview. Consider briefly describing information about your training and ability to help when it is requested; you may want to use the names and positions of your supervisors if this is needed to reassure an especially anxious client.
Goal-orientation. The success or failure of a counseling relationship is strongly influenced by the precense or absence of a mutually agreed upon goal between the client and the counselor. Throughout the semester, you will be frequently pressed to state a realistic and obervable goal that you are working toward with your clients. Keep in mind the old adage; "How can you get anywhere if you don't know where you're going?"
Multicultural Considerations. All of the recommendations offered in this review, should be tempered with the knowledge that clients from cultures other than your own may react very differently. It is important to keep in mind cultural context, and to adjust accordingly.
Achieving good rapport requires the cooperation of the counselor and the client. It also takes time, but the counselor can take immediate steps to help the process along. Words and body language should express real interest in your client. Perhaps most important of all, the counselor should be as aware as possible of their own feelings and attitudes and how they might affect the image that they project.
(*Liberally adapted from: Morrison, J. (1993). The first interview: A guide for clinicians. New York, NY: Guilford Press)
Psychology & Counseling Department | McGowan Center, Rooms 1032 & 1034
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Questions about the Psychology Program to Dr. Estelle Campenni at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions about the Counseling Program to Dr. Jennifer Barna at email@example.com.