Whenever a client says, “I’ve never said this to anyone before, but...”, I know we have a good working relationship.
It means that there is enough trust and connection in place for them to have the confidence to be honest with me, their therapist.
But how do you get there?
Counsellors are not advice givers. A counsellor’s role is to support and guide you as you explore your world, as you explore your difficulties, and maybe as you explore potential change. So, if after a few sessions, you aren’t ready, willing and able to honestly think about your life, therapy may not be right for you.
Also, swapping between counsellors can be unsettling, confusing and off-putting. That’s why it really is so important to have a good relationship with your therapist, to give you the very best experience.
First, before you contact anyone, think about how many sessions you want and how much money you want to spend. Consider the location and timing – how will counselling fit in with your schedule? Many people prefer not to have to go back to work after a session, and find evening sessions are best.
Do your homework. Research the different therapies available, so that when you come to look at therapist profiles, you know what you do and don’t want - shop around and get a feel for who is out there before you commit.
Make sure you find someone reputable. Always look for a therapist who is qualified and a member of one or more of the UK’s professional counselling and therapy organisations such as the BACP or UKCP.
When you build a relationship with someone, you begin by connecting. For me, this starts with an interest in how my client is feeling, in what has been happening for them, and in what they would like to “fix” or change. I try to connect further by aiming to understand my client’s perspective, by showing empathy (compassion) and by actively listening to what s/he has to say.
Connecting may take time, but ask yourself whether you feel listened to and heard.
*Is your therapist focused on you? Does s/he seem to hear and understand what you are saying? *
Once the connection has been established, you will reach trust. Again, this can take time, but through this, the interest shared between client and therapist can open up the possibility of exploring your issues in more depth.
Trust means you can depend on your therapist to respect what you have to say – there is no judgement – and to do what’s right by you in a session. This could, of course, mean challenging you, and to begin with many clients leave sessions feeling worse than before they went in! If you trust your therapist, you trust that they are putting your interests and your safety first. While this can be uncomfortable, it can be really beneficial. Therapy is tough. It’s not just about offloading.
Therapy challenges us to think differently, and sometimes behave differently, by gaining new perspectives.
Ask yourself how you feel when you leave a session. If you felt challenged, did you also feel supported? Give yourself time to “process” the session afterwards.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a friend as “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection” and many clients develop a close relationship with their therapist. But, let’s make it clear – your therapist is not your friend.
Friendship is a two-way relationship, where most people act and behave in the same way with each other, often through a shared experience (commonality). The focus of the experience in therapy isn’t shared, it’s about you, “The Client”.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t be a friendly therapist, but my focus is you and to promote your well-being. Having an agreed contract in place from the beginning can help set boundaries and confirm who’s responsible for what (for example, how confidentiality works). Many therapists disclose little about themselves and won’t discuss irrelevant topics that fall outside of your reasons for coming to therapy. So, they won’t talk about the weather or movies.
Of course, therapists have feelings too, and from time to time we may laugh or cry with you. This empathy is also good for the connection to grow so that the ‘real’ you feels able to speak openly and honestly.
Therapy is an intense and intimate place for both the client and counsellor, and when this relationship grows, so does our ability to work with each other in a more deep and meaningful way.
The more honest you are, the more you will get out of a session. You might find it helpful to give yourself time to think about what you want to talk about beforehand can be really helpful.
We are experienced at confronting difficult subjects and have techniques or activities that can make tackling challenging subjects a little easier. So don’t be afraid, and don’t put the welfare of your therapist before your own.
Honesty can strengthen the bond between client and therapist, so long as it’s handled with care, tact and diplomacy. In return, it can enable the client to explore change e.g. new perspectives - if your therapist can accept what you have to say, maybe you can learn to accept it yourself.
Counselling is a space where you can be honest and you won’t be judged. It’s a place to practise and explore without fear of being told you’re doing the wrong thing.
If, at any point, you feel judged, the agreed boundaries have been broken, or you just don’t feel listened to, say something. Your therapist won’t be offended - sometimes it can help improve the relationship between client and counsellor, and sometimes it means that you would be better working with another therapist. When this happens, think of therapy as a set of stepping stones, leading you in the right direction, to live that fulfilled and contented life you’ve always wanted.
You can book a session with Tanis by clicking on her bio below.