The counselling relationship is the essence of the helping process in counseling, and I think it begins, at least in the clients mind, before there is ever any attempt to set up an appointment.
So my first contact with a client will probably be by phone call, and I need to remember to create a cordial, and welcoming tone of voice and sustain it.
No day dreaming allowed, no matter how many times I have returned client phone calls and scheduled an initial appointment.
There may be questions and I need to remember the ambivalence or even resistence that the client may be experiencing, and respect it, while setting an expectation that positive results, which will be defined by the client, will flow from our counselling relationship.
I also usually schedule a free consultation for our first session, and I indicate to my caller that we will talk about the fit between my skills and their issues and create some kind of plan for our continuing work.
However, if the client launches into a full scale telling-of-the-story, I need to be prepared to ask that we go into that during our face to face meeting, rather than over the phone, so boundaries are OK.
When my client arrives, I like to cheerfully greet them, invite them into my office, get them settled with coffee or water, and ask them what has changed since their phone call to me.
I am setting an expectation that change is already happening and at this point oftentimes my client will tell me the story and chronology of their problem.
At this point in the counselling relationship, my job is just to listen.
And listening does have some discreet skills, most importantly my repeating the clients words to myself, and then back to the client at appropriate moments so that the client knows I am listening, and I can double check that my perceptions are accurate.
What I am striving for in the counselling relationship at this moment is for the client to feel safe.
Usually at our time together progresses, I can see my client begin to relax, and perhaps the energy intensity lessons, and I can move into some suggestions about directions our future work could take.
You will note that I have not talked about payment, because most folks who are interested in continuing will offer information about payment, and those who are still shopping will not, and sometime one session is all that is needed.
Perhaps this one session counselling relationship was all that was necessary.
I like to be very encouraging, because I have seen folks rebuild their lives, come back from the Gates of Hell, so to speak, and I know powerful change can happen.
I know that belief comes through in my consultations.
Of course, as we make our plans then the usual intake and confidentiality issues need to be clarified, and another appointment scheduled.
So the biggest part of the counselling relationship thus far has been my creating a belief about how I am going to behave which includes paying close attention to my visitor.
Perhaps at the end of our consultation, or at the next session, I begin to give the client information about "road maps" as my old friend and mentor Liz Ann Corbitt called them.
I have watched many clients visibly relax when they find out that there is some kind of theoretical explanation for what they are experiencing. Knowing that there is a beginning and an end of counseling at least, is extremely helpful to a clients confidence about their ability to effect change.
And then I can talk about how recent research into brain function, particularly functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) has impacted our understanding of human behavior, and we can even talk about how recent information about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity impact the client's situation.
So there is lots of encouragement involved in my particular style of counselling relationship.
I also indicate to clients that book like Brainfit for Life offers a compelling model for a brain fit life, and if you follow that model, almost all counseling situations are impacted positively, so please check it out.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
Would you share your favorite gratitude story by clicking here? Your story may be just what another person needs to renew themselves.
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