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People are always searching for connection. As a society, we are very connected—our phones alert us to the very latest news and events; social media provides constant connection to our friends and acquaintances; and we are always a text message away from our loved ones. When meeting new people, we often connect with others over common interests and likes. But connection looks very different in the therapy.
To say the therapeutic relationship is unlike any other seems obvious. But I find the uniqueness of therapy relationship to be comforting as it normalizes our emotional responses as therapists to our clients. Often after clients share private and personal details of from their lives, a client may say to me, “I have never shared that with anyone before.” As a therapist, it feels like a privilege to be the keeper of such intimate information. However, this is not a reciprocal relationship because the same clients who share so freely with me, also do not know many personal details about me. This is intentional as this is the way that the therapist-client relationship is uniquely set up. For the client, the therapist can be an objective source of comfort and support. And for the therapist, the focus is solely on the client and his or her needs. The skills that the client learns when connecting with his or her therapist can be transferred to the ordinary and reciprocating relationships that we negotiate in our everyday lives.
The connection between therapist and client most often happens during the therapeutic engagement stage. Engagement is a joining technique that commonly occurs in therapy during the first interview or initial meeting. It is a process of forming a good relationship between therapist and client and sets the foundation so that the therapeutic work can occur. The quality of the client’s connection to his or her therapist can influences how invested a client is in therapy. Clients who feel a strong attachment to their therapists are usually more willing to be vulnerable in session and make major strides in therapy. As a result, therapy is driven by the quality of the therapeutic relationship. For my engagement with clients, I like to build a partnership as a way to establish a positive, trusting and equal relationship. While I bring a professional expertise to the relationship, I also understand and respect the autonomy that the client brings into the relationship as an expert in his or her own life.
Engagement is a relational process and can be complicated and challenging. Different clients require different styles of engagement, and may require the therapist to make specific adjustments to the therapy in order to connect. Some people easily connect to their therapist right from the beginning, while others may need more reassurance and time to settle into a relationship. Therapeutic relationship failures and successes are par for the course in therapy.
I am continually humbled by this work and the intimacy of establishing a deep connection with another person. I sometimes worry about connecting with my clients, but I trust in the therapeutic work and process. I do what I can as a therapist to connect with my clients in order to better engage them in the therapeutic experience.
Interesting in connecting? Find out more by contacting me!
Written By jamie.kreiterLCSW