Therapist and client build trust together

How Long Does It Take to Build Trust 
With a Client in Therapy?

While many clients may have the same diagnoses and symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or relationship difficulties, no two clients will ever be the same. And the process of building trust is unique to each client who walks through the doors. 

A therapist’s goal is to help their clients, but therapy can only go so far without trust. Trust is the most important ingredient to making therapy truly effective, and therapists play a key role in establishing this trust. Here are some tips to strengthen relationships with clients and gain trust more quickly.

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When Clients Don’t Trust Their Therapist

The fundamental goal of therapy is to help individuals resolve personal challenges and improve their emotional well-being. Establishing an open and trustworthy relationship with clients helps them effectively reach their goals. However, when trust isn’t developed early on, clients may end treatment too soon. Research shows that one in five clients drop out of therapy before completing treatment. 

Clients can sense when their therapist is detached. The way therapists build relationships with clients can make a world of difference in attendance and counseling outcomes. To build a strong relationship with clients, there are some things therapists need to be mindful of. 

How Long Does It Take to Build Trust?

The average length of time varies from client to client since every situation and individual is different. However, a study conducted by SDL found that it takes two years on average for clients to trust a company or individual. In therapy, however, trust must be established much sooner – within the first few sessions – if treatment is to be successful. 

Progression of Trust in the Client-Therapist Relationship

The client-therapist relationship has been found to be the most significant contributor to positive counseling outcomes. Building rapport and trust in the early stages of counseling is vital.

The First Session

During the first session, clients are often inundated with filling out forms – HIPPA forms, insurance information, questionnaires, service agreements – making it difficult to establish trust right away. But this initial intake assessment is often the most important interaction therapists have with clients. It’s an opportunity to learn more about why the client is seeking support, develop rapport, and get an idea of their goals for therapy. 

Following procedure and gathering information is important during this initial session, but too much focus on the formalities may cause a client to think that therapy only consists of filling out forms and may not show up for their next session. 

The Second and Third Sessions

The second and third sessions are typically more conversational than the first meeting. Clients share their experiences and discuss their big-picture goals and specific short-term objectives for therapy. The therapist should work with the client to develop a plan to reach these goals and how to measure the client’s progress throughout treatment.

Many studies show that the client-therapist relationship reaches its peak at the third session. If there isn’t a connection between the therapist and client by this point, there is a high risk that the client will drop out of treatment. 

If the client is beginning to open up and discuss sensitive concerns during these sessions, this is a good indicator that the client-therapist relationship has been built on trust. Therapists can then proceed with treatment and focus on making the client feel relaxed and confident.

Fourth Session and Beyond

If the client-therapist relationship is strong enough, the “real work” often begins in the fourth session and beyond. Clients feel comfortable with their therapist, and sessions have a predictable rhythm. Trust is essential at this point because this is often when clients are pushed to discuss uncomfortable experiences or strong emotions. 

Building Trust with Clients Early On 

Therapy is successful when it’s built on trust. Clients should be able to trust their therapist enough to tell them their innermost feelings. Building trust with clients is possible when these factors exist:

1. Empathy

It’s widely said that empathy is the essential emotion one must possess to make a good therapist. During sessions, clients will have varying sensitive feelings, and it is the therapist’s job to help clients feel understood and respected. Therefore, showing compassion and understanding is critical. 

This can often be achieved through active listening. Truly listening to the client allows the therapist to obtain the information they need to start helping the client and shows the client a genuine desire to understand them. When therapists actively listen to a client, the individual feels heard, and trust can begin to develop.

2. No Judgement

When therapists are non-judgmental during sessions, clients are more likely to open up and more forthcoming about their feelings. If clients feel they are being judged negatively based on what they share and reveal, it will have the opposite effect. Clients can pick up on the slightest hint of judgment, so therapists should remember to keep their own feelings in check during sessions. 

3. Patience and Flexibility

Clients are the ones who set the pace on when trust can be fully formed. Some patients may come along slower in the process but demonstrate a desire to trust the therapist and engage in treatment. When this is the case, therapists need to be patient and flexible with timelines. 

Sometimes giving clients space to dictate the pace or direction of sessions is also helpful, which requires the therapist to be flexible in their approach. This can help the client feel more comfortable with their therapist and more present during sessions.

4. Professionalism

Effective therapists establish clear boundaries with clients. Crossing these boundaries can have serious implications on a therapy’s effectiveness. Therapists should avoid building friendships with their clients. Discussing personal details or irrelevant topics is not an appropriate way to build trust during therapy, as sessions should also center around the client and their concerns. 

5. Mindfulness

Therapists are human, too, and sometimes mistakes happen during sessions. When a therapist makes a mistake with a client, pausing and taking the time to apologize is critical to therapy. Therapists can openly communicate and correct the mistake to show the client their best interests are the top priority. 

On the flip side, if a client is wrong, therapists can show compassion and communicate that errors happen to everyone. Creating a course of action for getting back on track involves effort from both the therapist and the client.

Start Building Trust Now

For many potential clients, interaction with a therapist’s online booking system is often their first point of contact with you. Clients will know that you are more readily available for their needs right off the bat. 

Instead of dealing with frustrating phone calls, their request for a session is managed quickly. This will give them a positive indication of what working with you will be like. A positive first impression is crucial for trust in the client-therapist relationship. Every interaction after this will either reinforce or challenge the relationship. 

Ravel Mental Health gives clients enough information that they feel they know and trust you before setting foot in your office. Before they even enter for the first session, they will have an idea of what to expect and feel that you are willing to meet their needs in the channel most comfortable for them.

Do you agree? Start building trust with clients now.

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