It is the responsibility of the counsellor to provide a safe and confidential environment to work in and to display a high level of empathy, understanding and respect towards the client. When a client is seeking counselling, they are probably feeling vulnerable and quite emotional, and what they are wanting is to feel heard, understood and valued by their counsellor.
Generally, as human beings we like to feel a level of trust amongst our friends and families and other people we connect with at various times in our lives. We want to know that we can truly be ourselves around the people that we connect with, thus giving us the choice to freedom of speech, to articulate our voice and learn and grow more as a person. When we are relaxed with the people around us, we tend to be more open, similarly this works the same way in the therapy room.
The therapeutic relationship can be a powerful phenomenon, offering you a safe, impartial space to just be yourself, talk about your most intimate issues and appreciate what a trusting, genuine relationship feels like.
One of my favourite theorists of all time, Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic or ‘person-centred’ therapy, hypothesised that clearer outcomes are gained in the therapeutic alliance if a therapist displays the following traits:
- Unconditional positive regard – Acceptance and non-judgmental behaviour from the therapist allows the space the client needs throughout the exploration process.
- Empathy – This stance is a way of being with the client. The therapist need not agree with the client but does need to express genuine understanding.
- Congruence – Authentic collaborations between the client and the therapist are a normal part of the process. The therapist acts in accordance with their values and beliefs throughout the relationship. Congruence is about the therapist’s thoughts and feelings while working with the client.
The counselling role is about being present with the client in their space, thus presenting the opportunity to create mutual trust and confidence in the therapeutic relationship. When the client feels safe in the relationship, they are more likely to relax and be honest with their communication, therefore presenting the opportunity for them to build their self-confidence, motivation, and a belief that they can make positive change in their lives.
The therapeutic alliance requires certain elements from both the client and the counsellor, and these elements are the key to a successful coalition.
As a client, you may be looking for something distinctive in the client-therapist relationship, this may include:
- A caring personality
- Life Experience and skill
- Appropriate qualifications
- Someone who is impartial
- A good listener
There will be certain qualities therapists will look for in a client and these may include:
- Commitment to the process
What to look for when choosing a Counsellor:
I suggest that you ask yourself what it is that you are looking for in a therapist and be mindful that you may have to consult with more than one therapist before you find the one that is the ‘right fit’ for you. This does not always happen but sometimes, despite all attempts, there is little or no client-counsellor connection between some client-counsellor partnerships and you may need to move on to someone else.
My suggestion is to attend at least three sessions with a counsellor before you make up your mind about whether the counsellor is the ‘right fit’ for you, or not. Some clients will know straight away if this is the therapist that will best suit their needs, just by sitting down and starting a conversation. A good counsellor will not jump straight in to why you are there, instead will chit-chat with you first and make you feel comfortable.
If you are unsure after a few sessions, think about what you want from counselling, you might want someone that is purely a good listener, who is caring and empathic, or you might want someone who can help you to understand what it is that brings you to therapy and offer you strategies to work through. The therapeutic process is unique to each client as will be the emotional connection between the client and the therapist.
It is important to find a therapist that allows you the space to take the session where you want it to go and at the pace that you feel comfortable with. Moreover, it is imperative to work with a counsellor who checks in with you regularly, asking how you are doing, what you are thinking and feeling, and whether you are finding the sessions helpful. Sometimes you may need to shift gears during the process for a more favourable outcome.
Keep in mind that it is not essential for the therapist you choose to know all the theories of the counselling process, because there are hundreds of them. Some counsellors may specialise in a particular area of the therapeutic process and follow a particular model of therapy, others may not. Some counsellors have a particular niche they work with whereas other counsellors do not.
Finding the right counsellor can sometimes be compared to buying a product, you have many choices. You are free to ask the counsellor questions about themselves that may include their credentials and years of experience. Counsellors remain in touch with therapeutic changes through the essential requirements of their given associations. This will include a certain amount of professional development each year, for example workshops, courses and seminars that will assist us in attaining insight into existing challenges with the therapeutic alliance, gaining knowledge around new, existing and updated information, skills and methods related to the counselling and therapeutic profession. We are also required to complete supervision hours to remain certified in our profession. This is where we anonymously discuss cases with a highly qualified supervisor within our profession, to gain insight, feedback and sometimes ideas to work with our clients.
It is your right to recognise that you can see a professional that is capable, qualified, and experienced in areas that you seek support in. Thus, giving you the opportunity to engage in new ways of relating in a safe space and share issues with someone who is impartial and wants what is best for you.