The importance of trust in a therapeutic relationship!
Updated: Jan 22
Each and every one of my clients is individual and has a unique story. If there’s a couple on my sofa, it’s the relationship between them which is my client. In that relationship are two individuals with each a story, each an identity inside and outside the relationship.
Though, on the surface, some of my clients present with the same diagnoses and symptoms such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, grief or relationship difficulties; no two stories, experiences and challenges are the same - and as such, can’t be treated the same to have a successful outcome.
I aim at always keeping this at the forefront of my mind. On my behalf, it takes awareness and trust that whatever needs unfolding in the therapeutic process will present itself when the client is ready. To facilitate this, building a trusting alliance with my clients is of the utmost importance.
This alliance, be it with individuals or couples, is unlike any other relationship my clients have in their lives. Firstly, it’s characterised by them telling me if not all, then lots of private details about their lives - often things that they don’t discuss with anyone else - whereas my clients learn very little about me.
Secondly, this imbalance in exchange of information in combination with me having the upper hand as the so-called expert can create an imbalance of power in our relationship; yet, we must remain equals. I may be the expert on how to conduct therapy. I may have extensive experience in listening to people, helping them understand themselves better and assisting them overcome the struggles which they sought help for, but I am not an expert on how my clients should live their lives. Indeed, this expertise belongs to my clients!
Without a trusting alliance, therapy can only go as far - and usually, that is not very far! To be truly effective, trust is the number one most important ingredient in a therapeutic relationship; and as the therapist, I play a vital role in establishing this trust. Therefore, the initial sessions are used for the client and me to build a good rapport, for the client to assess if I feel like the right therapist for them and for me to learn, amongst other things, as much about this particular client’s way of being in relationship as I possibly can to enable me to support them in their journey of self-discovery.
It takes great courage to embark on a journey of self-discovery, and I will never cease to be inspired nor humbled by the trust my clients put in me. They trust that I am able to hold them even at the ugliest and darkest of times. Times, where they can be doubtful if they can hold themselves not to mention potentially being afraid that others might abandon them should they see the truth behind the mask.
A great inspiration to me is the Polish-Swiss psychologist, Alice Miller, who believed that the experience of having a therapist who is an empathic witness to the pain and misjustice a client has suffered in early life in itself has tremendous healing powers. Research has confirmed this belief: For a client to experience improvement in their lives, the quality of the relationship between the client and their therapist is more important than which kind of psychological school the therapist swears by.
As such, it is vital that I honour the trust placed in me whilst in a beneficial and non-maleficent way support the client through their pain to gain as much autonomy as possible to lead a life which is in correspondence with their beliefs and values.
Witnessing a client beginning to break free from some of the limiting beliefs imposed on them by early relationships or the pain of trauma and other troublesome experiences is tremendously rewarding.
When clients begin to unfold their true selves, their true potential and uncover their dreams and goals; when they begin to reveal who they really are and start to trust themselves and enjoy the benefits of being authentic; when they start living in accordance with their own values and beliefs; this, genuinely, is the most rewarding part of therapy. It’s a privilege to be part of such transformative journey.
For the therapist to be fully available to their client, under-going supervision and having their own personal therapy is vital. Only through psychological development, can a therapist regulate themselves and their reactions to what happens in therapy, be fully alert and available to their clients’ needs and tailor the therapy and its interventions to the clients’ best interests.
Recently, a non-therapist friend said to me that years ago he had thought that many therapists were people who had had so much grief and struggle in their lives that they couldn’t possibly be anything for anyone when they themselves had needed help. With time, and training to become a coach, he had learnt that there may not be anyone better to understand, to be empathetic and to sit with people in deep psychological pain to eventually help people pieces themselves back together to live a better and more satisfactory life than people who had experienced such journeys themselves.
Being a good therapist requires good thorough psychological training and continuing professional development, but it also requires being authentic and in genuine touch with one’s emotional life, acknowledgement of one’s shadow sides and a curiousity towards one’s blind spots. Only in such humble, yet empowered position can a therapist make themselves fully available to create and maintain a trusting relationship with a client.