- A key to finding success in therapy is building a positive relationship with your therapist and feeling comfortable enough to open up to them.
- Counselors use different techniques to help their clients feel more comfortable in therapy, and in turn, make for a successful therapy journey.
- First, it helps to lay everything out on the table for the client so they know what they’re getting into, and then to lead each session with humility.
- Another effective technique is simply asking a client what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable in therapy: what do you like? What don’t you like? How can I make you feel more comfortable?
- Additionally, counselors can comfort their clients by letting them guide the pace of therapy and then checking in with them at the end of each session to see how they feel.
An essential element to a successful therapy journey is a positive therapist-client relationship. In other words, it’s hard to benefit from therapy if you and your therapist don’t get along; if you don’t click; if you don’t (or can’t) put your trust in them. Now, it’s normal to put up walls when you first enter therapy—but it’s your therapist’s job to break them down, gain your trust, and then guide you on that successful journey we just mentioned.
You might be wondering, “How do they do it? How do they crack the code?” Especially if you aren’t one to let people in very easily. While techniques range amongst therapists and counselors, the following have proven to help clients feel more comfortable opening up:
1) Help a client know what to expect.
First, be friendly and warm from the get-go, and clearly explain how this whole process is going to go down. “From the very first phone call to my practice I work hard to make sure that the call is answered by the office manager or administrator, to ensure that a potential client connects with a human voice,” Licensed Psychologist Rachel Oppenheimer, owner of Therapy Hive and Upside Therapy and Evaluation Center, explains. “It can be so scary and daunting to ask for help, that this personal touch has made many clients remark that this is why they chose our practice—that they didn’t have to play phone tag or muster up the courage multiple times; we made scheduling easy. That ease carries over to the first session. Clients are prepared ahead of time with what to expect via a personalized email, along with paperwork, forms, directions, and pictures of the office.”
2) Lead with humility.
Therapists can also make their clients feel comfortable by leveling the playing field. “Many therapists have bought into a belief that they must have it together and lead their clients from a place of knowledge and power. Though this sounds nice, the reality is that we’re all human and equally capable of making mistakes and messes out of our lives. I try to remind myself that I am on equal footing with all of my clients, the nature of the relationship is simply directed toward their care,” says Dr. Marie Fang, licensed clinical psychologist. “I believe this mindset comes across to clients and helps foster a nonjudgmental environment. Clients can feel relieved knowing that whatever they may be experiencing, I’m capable of experiencing the same thing too, so there is no reason that I would judge them.”
3) Ask what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable.
Another simple strategy, which goes a long way, is asking clients what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable in therapy. “When you meet with me, I ask about prior therapy experiences. Sometimes, clients say their previous therapist had habits they didn’t like or talked in a way they didn’t like,” Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, licensed marriage and family therapist, explains. “We also discuss culturally acceptable behavior. I don’t like to assume I know how you want to be addressed. I ask about this so that I don’t unintentionally commit a faux pas. Some clients tell me if they don’t like specific therapeutic methods, and I take note of that. If a client is completely new to therapy, I tell them a bit about how I work and encourage them to please let me know if I do or say something they find uncomfortable or irritating.”
4) Go at their preferred pace.
Julie Williamson, licensed professional counselor, says it’s also important to go at the client’s pace: “I aim to make my clients feel comfortable by going at their pace, not forcing them to open up when I think they should, but working with the information they’re giving me, trusting that they will open up and share when they are ready. My role is to create a safe and comfortable environment by listening and going at their pace so that when they feel ready to go deeper, they make that decision, rather than it being forced upon them. Sometimes, it helps them to open up and share by simply reflecting what I’m hearing them saying.”
5) Check in at the end of each session.
Finally, checking in with the client at the end of a session to gage how they feel helps them to ease into therapy and feel more comfortable opening up. “One of the ways I make my clients feel comfortable is by checking in at the end of a session. How did you feel coming in? How do you feel now? I also ask what they expect from therapy. I explain to them that I want them to be able to give me feedback about how therapy is going because it is their time and money,” says Jessica McCormack, licensed marriage and family therapist. “When clients are opening up and sharing, I validate their feelings, and often use silence while they are experiencing deep emotion to allow them to have space their loved ones can’t provide. The benefit of therapy is being the person that your client can tell anything to without a judgmental experience.”