How to Build a Trusting Counselor Patient Relationship
The fundamental goal of counseling is to help individuals who are experiencing personal challenges be able to resolve them and improve their emotional well-being. Establishing an open and trustworthy relationship with your patients creates the foundation for how they’ll most effectively reach their goals, and it’s also a significant measure of your therapy’s success.
Building genuine connections from a trusting counselor patient relationship is possible when these factors exist:
You’re empathetic. People who choose counseling as a career path are usually empathetic by nature. It’s widely said that empathy is the key emotion one must possess to make a good counselor. An abundance of sensitive emotions will be brought forward during the counseling process, and it’s the counselor’s job to help their clients feel understood and respected. But an effective relationship also involves a reasonable balance of emotions. You must be compassionate, but not show pity for your clients. You must express understanding, but not in the sense that you agree with irrational behaviors or thoughts.
The focus is on the patient. Counseling requires a great deal of listening—it’s how therapy works: they talk, you listen. It’s your job to stay focused and give each patient the full attention they need, and you need, in order to gain insight to make an accurate assessment, and ultimately develop a suitable therapy plan.
Objectives are set. After you’ve listened to your client share their story, and taken good notes, the next step is to establish clear objectives, based on the specific issues and needs of your client. By communicating a defined set of objectives, with milestones along the way, you’re helping your client feel hopeful their issues can come to resolution.
You practice unconditional positive regard in your therapy. It’s a notion that allows your patients to open up and be forthcoming in their feelings, and honest about actions that may have called them to seek counseling. If your patient feels you are judging them in a negative manner based on what they have shared and revealed, the opposite effect will ensue.
You’re prepared. A good counselor will prepare for each session by reviewing notes from previous sessions and developing a strategy, based on research and proven counseling practices, for each patient’s goals. Good counselors also know that continued education and research play a significant role in developing their knowledge, and that’s what makes good counselors great ones.
You’re patient and flexible. In reality, the client sets the pace in how they accept and apply the counseling they are receiving. This requires patience and flexibility. Goals may be tied to a timeline, but depending on how slowly (or quickly) a client progresses, you may choose to modify a given therapy and change course.
There’s no coddling. Your job is to help your client overcome and manage their troubles and anxieties, but coddling your client only slows down the process. Progress will come at a pace your client is comfortable with, and sometimes it won’t come without a little push. Each session should end with a takeaway—an “assignment” for your client to put to work in their life as a step closer toward their goal.
Your relationship is professional. Simply stated: you are the teacher, your patient is the student. Effective counselors establish a clear boundary between being friendly in nature, and having a “friendship.” Crossing that boundary can have serious implications on a therapy’s effectiveness, and in some cases can result in an ethics complaint against your license.
You’re unbiased. Effective counselors don’t use their personal beliefs or preferences to sway their approach to counseling—and they’re sensitive to each client’s lifestyle, culture or religious choices, as well. A good counselor will look for ways to integrate a client’s beliefs into an effective care plan, if and when it makes sense.
You seek help yourself. You may not have the expertise to handle every issue of every patient that comes your way. Your patient is spending good money on counseling services and deserves fairness and honesty from you. If you feel inadequate about addressing a patient’s issue, seek consultation from a colleague, or refer your patient to a counselor more qualified to counsel them.
Proper procedures are followed. Always obtain the patient’s informed consent before administering treatments and therapies. It’s often a legal requirement imposed on counselors, and is also a crucial part of helping prevent malpractice claims against a counselor.
Confidentiality is indisputable. A counselor always, always maintains confidentiality—of every patient. While using one client’s scenario—perhaps to illustrate the success of a therapy being recommended—in another client’s therapy is acceptable, names and specifics of a client should never be given.
The best testament to the quality of your counseling will be largely determined by your patient’s progress and healing. Your counselor patient relationship also plays a significant part. As sessions progress, patients should become happier, see things in a new light, approach situations more positively and be able to help themselves, rather than relying solely on your guidance to get them through issues that arise. They’ll be able to keep their emotions in check, make better choices, and be hopeful about the future.