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Establishing trust with your therapist

by Sarah Graham
Tuesday 28 October 2014
6523 5200

Therapy is a relationship like no other, and it's not surprising that many people initially feel uneasy about laying themselves bare to a complete stranger. Building trust can take time, but remember that the focus of this relationship is on your feelings and needs, and mutual trust is vital for you to get the most out of your time in therapy.

We asked some RSCPP therapists for their advice on establishing a positive therapeutic relationship.


Check their credentials

It can be helpful to start off with a clear understanding of your therapist's qualifications and professional experience, and Registered Counsellor Caroline Brown says you should feel free to ask questions about their credentials.

"A reputable therapist will be a trained member of a recognised professional body, adhering to their code of ethics and principles of good practice, and insured for professional indemnity," she says. "These are a solid starting point for you to have confidence in their professional integrity."

If you found your therapist through RSCPP, you can be sure that they're qualified to the highest standards, with their qualifications and experience listed on their profile. But of course, knowing your therapist is trustworthy on paper is still no guarantee of an immediately easy relationship.


Take your time

In any relationship it can be hard to trust someone you have just met, and it's perfectly normal outside of the therapy room to take your time getting to know someone new. Therapy is a very unusual experience where, faced with a complete stranger, you may feel an expectation to open up your inner-most being. Your therapist will be aware how difficult this can be, and should have the patience to wait until you're ready, without pressuring you or judging you for feeling uneasy.

Registered Psychotherapist Diane Adderley says: "The relationship between a client and their therapist takes time to establish, and it is vitally important to develop trust if you are to feel safe enough to tell your story." 

Her advice to is to go at your own pace: "You don't have to tell your story all in one go," she says. "It may be that you will need a number of sessions before you are ready to tackle some of your concerns. If there are questions you want to know the answers to, ask them. Your therapist may probe a little to find out why this is important to you, but, for me, I will always attempt to give a truthful answer." 


Discuss your concerns

Common barriers to developing trust often include concerns around being rejected or judged. Perhaps a friend or relative has betrayed your trust, you've not got on with a previous therapist, or you've opened up to someone new only to find yourself judged and rejected by them.

Your therapist will be used to meeting new clients for the first time, and may well have encountered similar concerns before. Indeed, addressing these worries or past experiences can be an important step in moving your relationship forward.  Accredited Counsellor Els Van Ooijen says: "One client was suspicious of me as he had not liked a previous therapist. By explaining to him that the therapeutic relationship is two-way, we were able to be upfront with each other and did some good work together."

Similarly, Diane says: "A client of mine once asked me, after several sessions, what thoughts went through my mind when he first arrived in a short-sleeved T-shirt with tattoos covering his arms and neck. I was able to answer honestly that I had noticed them and was curious about what they signified to him, but had chosen not to ask until he was ready to tell. He visibly relaxed and started to tell me the meanings of the stories he had chosen to carry on his body. This was a turning point in our work together."


Take a risk

While it's important to take your time to develop trust, therapy will at some stage involve opening yourself up in a way that is understandably daunting.

As Registered Counsellor Benjamin Selby says: "In other types of relationships, trust develops slowly, over time, by getting to know people." However, when you're committing time and money to therapy sessions, this may be an incentive to open up more quickly.

While that may sound scary, particularly if taking the risk of opening up has led to hurt in the past, his advice is to remember that the therapy room is a safe space in which to bite the bullet. "Take the risk and be rewarded by the richness of understanding and honesty you will get from your therapist, without any form of judgement," he says.


Allow your therapist to move things forward when you're ready

Remember too that your therapist will be experienced in listening to and observing clients, so they may pick up on clues that you are holding something back and provide you with a way into exploring those unspoken issues. "When I feel that, by not asking or probing a little further, we are not getting to where the root of the difficulty may lie, I may offer some form of question or statement that may open some dialogue which has not been covered," says Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman.

"Recently a client, who had been very guarded about taking any responsibility for the problems they were currently experiencing, seemed to be becoming more and more upset, and eventually shared with me some important information that they had not told anyone. This was extremely painful for them and afterward they told me that, although it had been awful to tell, they felt 'like a ton weight had been lifted'," she adds.

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Updated 28 October 2014