Finding the right therapist for you - the importance of rapport
First impressions count, as the old saying goes.
Although most people would not choose a therapist by good looks alone (hopefully!), how we look and present ourselves tells a story to everyone we meet. Researchers have found that we make a decision about someone in the first seven seconds of meeting. This is somewhat of a throwback to our primal days, when it was a necessary requirement when our lives were more unpredictable and others were competing for the same (perhaps limited) resources as you. We had to immediately decide if another person was friend or foe - a wrong decision could be a matter of life and death.
Research shows that most of our decisions, whether they are large or small, are broadly made unconsciously and involve emotion. Researchers could predict a choice that participants would make seven to 10 seconds before they themselves were even aware of having made a decision, simply by looking at their brain activity. This means that even when people think they are making a conscious decision, chances are that they’ve already made a decision and that it was made unconsciously.
Researchers have also discovered that you can’t make decisions if you can’t feel emotions. Therefore, paying attention to how you are feeling about any decision is an important part of the process. It is particularly important when deciding about the ‘friendliness’ of another person, because it speaks of how much instinctual fear that you subconsciously have about the ‘other’ person and thus how much you can, or will, trust them. As we all know, trust is the most important part of the client-therapist relationship.
One of the first things that you will analyse subconsciously when initially selecting a therapist, therefore, is their profile and picture.
So, despite never having met the therapist, you may begin to judge them on their professional appearance, for example. This is an important judgement that you may make when looking for a therapist. You will develop a sense of how you feel about them. Some people may feel comfortable with a more informal and relaxed therapist, whilst others equate a professional clinician to be perhaps male, a person ‘suited and booted’, or even one wearing a white coat. Everyone will see the picture through their own subjective lenses and equate certain characteristics with that person, thus engendering feelings of trust or discomfort about them. Therefore, when choosing your therapist, be aware of this process and honour that well-honed, instinctual feeling inside of you. Follow your heart.
Of course, the profile information about qualifications, ways of working, and even costs can then be dealt with on the conscious level using the logical, rational brain to decide amongst all those that you feel comfortable with.
It is not only vital that you choose the right therapy for your issue, but vital also to choose the right therapist to suit your personality. A man presenting with a sexual problem, for example, may not feel comfortable with a female therapist, or even an alpha male type. Every client and every therapist is unique and the importance of a connection and hence rapport between the two cannot be over-estimated.
It is important to develop a good rapport between you both, in order to improve your chances for a successful outcome. Rapport requires developing mutual trust and respect within an environment in which the client feels totally safe and secure. Rapport also includes a mutual empathy and understanding of how each other communicates and operates so that no misunderstandings can occur. You may be telling your therapist your deepest, darkest secrets and so it will serve you well to invest a little time on exploring several therapists and your prejudices before choosing.
On a practical level, it is always a good idea to make sure that you are clear about what you as the client want from your sessions and what the practitioner is able to offer. It is really important that you are both clear about the time, place and duration of your therapy sessions. Probably the most important area where clarity is needed is in the area of cost, including any charges for missed appointments and late notice cancellations. Many therapists are flexible around some of these issues if you are honest and open with them, so do not be afraid to talk to your practitioner about any problems that you may develop at short notice.
Here are a few other basic tips:
- Feel confident enough to ring and chat to the therapist first.
- Use recommendation and word of mouth to get a real insight into the therapist, their personal style and how they work.
- Make a list of pertinent questions to ask - are they solution focused, for example?
You have all the power as the client, and it is you who should make a considered decision in order to achieve the most desirable outcome and experience from your therapy.