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Teletherapy has been a godsend for many in recent times. It helped people who were grappling with the realities of a global pandemic access better help and support at the right time. Therapists across the country have been able to move their practice online, reach out to a larger number of clients and build a steady source of income with the help of teletherapy. Even though therapists were quick to adopt virtual therapy to compensate for the absence of in-person consultations, building online clients rapport has been a major challenge for several teletherapists.
Therapeutic rapport is an integral component of successful therapy. It plays a huge role in making clients feel safe about sharing their personal stories without the fear of being judged. Similarly, a good therapeutic rapport helps therapists to communicate freely and allows therapists and clients to work with each other as a team.
But how can therapists build rapport with clients online over chats and video calls? Here are some tips.
Avoid the tendency to have your eyes fixed on the client. Invest in good lighting and a high-quality webcam, and position it such that you are facing forward during the session. Make an effort to look at the camera when you meet your client, ask questions, and at the end of the session. This can help clients feel a personal connect, and make you feel like you are interacting with the person in real-time.
Let them know why you have to move your gaze when you look away from the camera. It could be that you want to observe the client, take down notes, or refer to documents. Whatever the reason, ensure that you inform the client of the reasons behind the shift in your online behavior. By doing so, you make yourself predictable to your client, and in turn, he/she will feel safe about opening up to you.
In order to increase rapport with clients, first validate what the client has shared, before challenging their views on the matter. Presenting counter viewpoints frequently, and before a solid rapport can be established, may make clients defensive. In the long run, it can adversely affect the outcome of therapy as well. While it is essential to highlight diverse possibilities to clients, winning them over by agreeing with their opinions or beliefs, without compromising on your integrity, can help the relationship in the long run.
First impressions are always the best impressions. They set the foundation for a relationship built on trust and mutual respect. So, it is important to be professional and well-meaning at the start of a therapy journey. But, it is even more important that you remain consistent and continue to live up to the client’s positive impression of you.
According to research, therapeutic rapport is maximum when at least 4% to 20% of the session is spent in silence. Give clients the time and space to ponder, reflect and voice themselves at their own pace; don’t rush it. It's only a matter of time before they see you as a confidante.
Speak your clients’ language. If they speak softly, make an effort to be soft. If your client is loud and fast, ensure that you speak in the same manner. Observe the client’s style of speaking and make a note of the words and phrases that they use. During the session, try and adopt the same style, words, and tone in your communication. Soon, they might start getting comfortable with you.
Counseling is a lot about listening. Active listening is critical to achieving desired outcomes through online therapy. Pay attention to the emotional state and the verbiage of the client and help them understand that you get where they are coming from.
Taking questions from clients can make therapy seem more like a two-way road, and can be a refreshing change from the monotony of asking questions. It also allows clients to communicate their concerns if any and provides the ideal opportunity to demonstrate your listening skills. Teletherapists’ listening skills are key to building rapport when working with online clients.
When you review all paperwork beforehand, you will have pointers to reference during therapy. This will show the client that they are important to you, that you are paying attention, and assure them that they do not need to repeat themselves.
Every client is unique, and so are the approaches to counsel them. Ask your clients what they liked and disliked the most about their therapy experiences in the past. If they are new to therapy, ask them how you can understand if your words or actions upset them. In addition to opening up communication channels, these questions also provide valuable insights into the mind of the client. Keeping your questions open-ended can give more room for dialogue and strengthen the relationship.
Remember, building online clients rapport with teletherapists takes time, effort and persistence! You could integrate these tips into your working style to provide your clients with a fruitful therapy experience. If you find that your efforts are not yet showing you the desired results, don’t fret about it. Individual personalities of clients and therapists play an important role in determining therapy success as well. Analyze where you’re missing the picture and rework a suitable plan of action accordingly.
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