The therapeutic relationship is a deeply explored notion in our schooling and training. Carl Rogers, after all, created an entire theoretical approach based on this by encouraging a humanistic approach to counseling. But often, we as therapists struggle with these guiding principles beyond the boundaries of the session clock.
We’re understandably tired outside these hours, and even the most disciplined providers struggle to be consistent. It doesn’t have to be an exhausting notion if we have some basic tools we can use. Therapy isn’t a product or transaction, but we can borrow principles from customer service to create a person-centered experience for our clients.
Try these tips to build stronger relationships that help you retain clients and support their growth.
Smart Email Etiquette
We all get emails explaining cancellations, last minute complications, and frustrations. I know, I know: We have schedules and responsibilities to maintain.
I have 2 rules that help me balance my personal schedule and communication with my clients: The set workday rule and the 24-hour response rule. I try very hard not to break them! ! I have set work hours. With the exception of certain emergencies, I don’t work beyond those times for my own mental health.
I also always reply to emails within 24 hours. No matter my schedule, I’ve found that I’ve always had the time to respond within these boundaries. It only takes a moment!
Additionally, double check your responses. Personalizing your message to show you care goes a long way. If a client’s child is sick, wish them a speedy recovery. If a client has an insurance or payment frustration, validate it, and encourage them to contact customer support—include the link or email in the message!
Flexible and Fair Scheduling
It’s often difficult to balance maintaining a schedule and having flexibility. It’s important to maintain your schedule to have a successful personal life. But it may be wise to have some flexibility within the same week, especially if you want your schedule to be full.
Coming back to the previous point, clients will email to say they can’t make it. Before replying, check your calendar for the week to see if you have any open slots and offer them some choices. You’d be surprised how many folks are willing to make something work. That way, your client continues to feel supported while you maintain your caseload.
Understand The Client Experience
Know what it’s like on the client end beyond the things discussed in therapy. Learn about the logistics of their therapeutic experience. With in-person therapy, this might have meant creating a welcoming office, with a waiting space that had water or snacks. The same concept applies virtually: What does the platform look like on their end? Where can they find useful links and information about using it? This will allow you to be more effective in supporting your clients.
There are benefits to knowing these answers and having familiarity with client experiences: You decrease their frustration and avoid creating a boundary for the client. The client will feel you are their provider—not a limited extension of the platform or tool you’re using to meet with them.
Use Relatable Language
We study and train hard to learn to do therapy. Ironically, sometimes that’s what gets in the way of building the therapeutic relationship. Clients often report feeling disconnected from their providers. Academically dense language creates distance, and clients end up feeling like they just can’t relate to their therapist.
You are a human and so are they. Don’t lean on technical or overly clinical language; try expressing concepts with words and tone you might use in everyday, casual conversation. Find a balance that blends your personality with your more professional side. Liking the interactions in the session is key for clients’ continued engagement!
I hope you find these tips helpful as a therapist. It’s so difficult to continuously manage our work—it truly can be emotionally taxing. However, incorporating small steps that foster a positive customer experience can make your day to day a little easier.
Victor Rivera Sink, LPC is a full-time therapist at UpLift. He has a background in directing community mental health services and providing outpatient therapy. He earned his Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University.