Rapport-building is the bedrock of what we offer as counsellors and psychotherapists. We begin to look at this right from the start in Level 2 training (the introduction to counselling), and we continue to write about it right up to when we submit our final portfolio. Even in a counselling dissertation, rapport-building will be mentioned, because it ‘knits’ its way through what we offer as counsellors.
What is Rapport?
Rapport is the way we are within the relationship, letting the client know that we are:
Rapport-building is important no matter what modality of counselling we’re practicing – because if the client doesn’t feel a sense that we are there for and with them, they will be unlikely to feel enough trust to bring any heavy material to the counselling relationship.
So a definition of rapport might be: ‘a sense of having a connection with the client, and the client sensing that very same connection’. As the second part of that definition suggests, rapport is not something that the counsellor simply demonstrates: it is built within the relationship, and so is present between the counsellor and the client.
A Way of Being
I believe that rapport is less something we do than something we are. Carl Rogers spoke of ‘a way of being’ – it’s about how we present ourselves from the very moment the client meets us to the very last session when they go on their way.
It can be tempting, in a recorded skill session that is going to be evaluated, to try and ‘switch on’ the rapport. But for me, that feels false and incongruent. I believe that the very essence of rapport is being our true selves, taking ourselves – just as we are – into the relationship. So we’re not there in the session trying to be the counsellor; we are just being ourselves, receptive to what the client is bringing.
However, there are things that we can do as counsellors to prepare to demonstrate that rapport.
The Importance of Preparing
First, being well prepared for the session is important. This means being ready to enter the session in a calm, unrushed way, so that we can be present for the client. We can maybe take the opportunity to spend five or ten minutes grounding ourselves and being present before the client arrives, perhaps also looking over our notes and/or thinking back to our last sessions with this client. As the client arrives, we will in essence already be with them. Conversely, if – two minutes before the client walks in – we’re seeing to our emails, we’re unlikely to be in the right mindset to be fully there.
The Counselling Environment
Another way that we can encourage rapport is to look at the counselling environment itself, making sure that it is safe and uncluttered. It is very important that the client feels that what they are bringing will be treated as confidential – that it can’t be overheard through a non-soundproof wall, or seen through an unscreened window.
Remembering Key Information
As a counsellor, it’s important to remember the names of the client, the people they talk about, and key issues from previous sessions. This is information that we can remind ourselves of when reading through the client’s notes in preparation for the forthcoming session. This all goes towards building rapport – showing the client that we care, are paying attention, and are there with them.
Mirroring is another great way to build rapport. By this, I mean looking at the client; how they are sitting and how they present themselves within the relationship, and demonstrating – perhaps with our tone of voice – our response to what they are bringing.
The pace of the counselling session is also important here: if the client is speaking slowly and being really considered in what they bring, we can mirror that back in speaking slowly. Conversely, it would be a mismatch if we quickly rattled off a summary of what the client had said.
It is also good to mirror the weight of the material being brought. If the material is particularly deep and meaningful to the client, then we can show our understanding by respecting that act of great trust.
The Core Conditions
Last but by no means least, the core conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard (UPR), and congruence are vital ingredients in building rapport. Empathy involves seeing things from the client’s perspective, and responding in such a way that the client feels that they have been understood: the circle of empathy is then complete. UPR is about seeing the client for who they are, recognising them without judgement as a fellow human being, and so being there for them no matter what they bring – however deep, dark and scary. Lastly, congruence is about being fully integrated (being who we really are) within that relationship.
Together, the core conditions build deep rapport and trust within the relationship. With this deep rapport and trust, we are able to work at relational depth – which is where real movement happens.
Next Steps in Rapport-Building
Have a think about what rapport-building means for you. Think about your own life and relationships. Are there certain people that you just get along well with? If so, what is it within those relationships that make them work? Think too about the people that you feel less comfortable with: what do you see in terms of rapport within those relationships? Where does that sense of discomfort come from?