Strategies That Build Rapport and Encourage Client Dialogue
This group of strategies includes the active listening strategies that enhance the listening capabilities of counselors and therapists. When used effectively, these strategies should provide an environment in which clients have the opportunity to talk and to share their feelings and thoughts with the assurance that they will be heard. By using such strategies, counselors and therapists enhance their chances of providing such an environment.
This set of strategies includes attending and encouraging, restating and paraphrasing, reflecting content and feeling, clarifying and perception checking, and summarizing. The following paragraphs present explanations and examples of these strategies.
Attending and Encouraging
These strategies use the counselor's or therapist's posture, visual contact, gestures, facial expressions, and words to indicate to clients not only that they are being heard but also that the counselor or therapist wishes them to continue sharing information.
Counselor/Therapist: (smiling) Please tell me what brought you in today.
Client: I'm having a hard time trying to put my life in order. I'm very lonely and bored, and I can't seem to maintain a lasting relationship.
Counselor/Therapist: (learning forward) Please tell me more.
Client: Every time I think I have a chance of developing a relationship, I screw it up by saying or doing something dumb.
Counselor/Therapist: (nodding) This is helpful, please go on.
Restating and Paraphrasing
These strategies enable a counselor or therapist to serve as a sounding board for the client by feeding back thoughts and feelings that clients verbalize. Restating involves repeating the exact words used by the client. Paraphrasing repeats the thoughts and feelings of the client, but the words are those of the counselor or therapist.
Client: I don't know why I do these dumb things. It's almost as if I did not want a relationship.
Counselor/Therapist: You don't know why you do dumb things. It may be that you don't want a relationship.
Client: I do want a relationship, but each time I get close I seem to do everything in my power to destroy it.
Counselor/Therapist: You are very sure that you want a relationship, but each time you have the opportunity you sabotage your chances.
Reflecting Content and Reflecting Feeling
These strategies enable the counselor or therapist to provide feedback to the client regarding both the ideas (content) and the emotions (feelings) that the client is expressing. By reflecting content, the counselor or therapist shares his or her perceptions of the thoughts that the client is expressing. This can be done either by using the client's words or by changing the words to better reflect the counselor's or therapist's perceptions. By reflecting feelings, a counselor or therapist goes beyond the ideas and thoughts expressed by the client and responds to the feelings or emotions behind those words.
Client: "Sabotage" is a good word. It's like I see what I want, but instead of moving toward it, I take a different path that leads nowhere.
Counselor/Therapist: You have a good idea of what you want, but when you see it developing, you turn and walk the other way.
Client: I am not sure "walk" is the right word. "Run" is more descriptive of what I do, and all the time I'm looking back to see if anyone is following.
Counselor/Therapist: You're afraid of getting close to someone, so you put as much distance between the other person and yourself as possible. I also hear that you're hoping that someone cares enough about you to run after you and stop you from running away.
Clarifying and Perception Checking
These strategies enable a counselor or therapist either to ask the client to define or explain words, thoughts, or feelings (clarifying) or to request confirmation or correction of perceptions he or she has drawn regarding these words, thoughts, or feelings (perception checking).
Client: If what you say is true, I'm a real jerk. What chance do I have to be happy if I run away every time I get close to someone else?
Counselor/Therapist: You say you want to be happy. What does "happy" mean to you?
Client: (long pause) I would be happy if I could let someone care for me, get to know me, want to spend time with me, and allow me to just be me and stop pretending.
Counselor/Therapist: Let me see if I'm understanding you. Your view of happiness is having someone who cares enough about you to spend time with you and to allow you to be yourself. Am I correct?
This strategy enables the counselor or therapist to do several things: first, to verbally review various types of information that have been presented to this point in the session; second, to highlight what the counselor or therapist sees as significant information based on everything that has been discussed; and third, to provide the client with an opportunity to hear the various issues that he or she has presented. Therefore, summarizing provides both the client and the counselor or therapist with the opportunity not only to review and determine the significance of information presented but also to use this review to establish priorities.
Client: Yes, I think that's what I'd like to have happen. That would make me happy. I would be in a relationship, feel cared about, and yet be able to be myself without having to either run or pretend.
Counselor/Therapist: We've talked about many things today. I'd like to review some of this and make plans for our next meeting. The parts that stick out in my mind are your loneliness, boredom, desire to have a lasting relationship, your behaviors that drive you away from building such a relationship, and your need for caring and the freedom to be yourself. Am I missing anything?
Client: Only that I want someone who wants to spend time with me. I think that's important.
Counselor/Therapist: So now we have a more complete picture that includes loneliness, boredom, desire for a relationship, desire for someone to spend time with, desire for someone who cares, and the need to be yourself. On the other side of the picture, we have your behaviors that keep this from happening. Where do you think we should begin next week?