What to Know About Therapeutic Rapport

A Component That Helps You Feel Safe and Respected

Man talking with therapist in therapy

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Therapeutic rapport is an essential part of a healthy therapist-client relationship. It contributes to a client feeling safe and respected so that therapy can succeed.

Therapeutic rapport refers to the empathic (caring) and shared understanding of issues between a therapist and a client. It implies a team approach to the management of these issues in contrast to an adversarial approach.

With good therapeutic rapport, a client feels their therapist "has their back" in a way that allows them to face difficult-to-face problems. Likewise, the therapist in a setting with good therapeutic rapport feels respected in a way that allows them to speak clearly and freely.

This article explores why therapeutic rapport is so essential for treatment and outcomes. It also discusses how therapists build this alliance and what to do if your relationship with your therapist lacks rapport.

Importance of Developing Therapeutic Rapport

The goal of developing a good rapport is to improve your chances for a successful outcome, along with developing mutual trust and respect, to foster an environment in which you, the client, feel safe. 

Therapeutic rapport can help you feel:

  • Better able to disclose painful memories or information
  • More comfortable discussing your emotions and experiences
  • Able to work through difficult issues and gain insight
  • Safe and supported as you work through this process

To develop a good rapport, your therapist must, among other things, demonstrate empathy and understanding. Therapeutic rapport is a cornerstone of most forms of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

What Is CBT?

CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing inaccurate or negative thought patterns. By helping people view situations in more realistic or positive ways, they can respond in ways that support their goals. CBT has been found to be effective in the treatment of a wide range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Research has found that a good therapeutic relationship has a significant impact on the outcome of therapy. Two aspects of therapeutic rapport that appear to be particularly important are mutuality and collaboration.

  • In one analysis of past research, therapeutic relationships that were based on mutuality—or treating therapy as a two-way relationship—helped improve client insights and mental functioning.
  • Another study found that collaborative therapeutic relationships—which involve agreeing to work together to achieve the client's goals—were linked to better therapy outcomes.

Studies have shown that being able to trust and respect a therapist is essential to a client-therapist relationship.

Treatment Planning

In order to develop a therapeutic rapport, you need to feel confident that your therapist is an expert who is developing a treatment plan designed to meet your specific needs.

How will you know if your therapist is taking the time to understand your needs? 

  • From your very first session, your therapist should assess the difficulties you currently have. They will help you create a problem list and begin to prioritize that with you. 
  • During the first few sessions, your therapist should outline the treatment plan for you and ask if it's acceptable to you. They should revisit the plan in future sessions and consult with you about necessary modifications. 
  • Your treatment plan should include goals and benchmarks, so it's easier to self-report and assess your own progress.

How a Therapist Builds Rapport

The process of building rapport begins with the initial counseling sessions, where the therapist and client become acquainted, learn more about the issues the client is facing, and work on developing a treatment plan. 

As therapy continues, a therapist will continue to utilize strategies that foster and support effective therapeutic rapport. Some of these strategies include:

  • Body language: Provide supportive nonverbal cues, including eye contact and nodding in agreement.
  • Client feedback: A therapist will offer feedback in the moment rather just than in a later session.
  • Collaboration: A therapist will encourage you to be active and feel empowered in regard to your treatment plan. You will work together as mutual partners in your treatment.
  • Flexibility and responsiveness: Research has also found that it is important for a therapist to be flexible and responsive to your needs. Therapeutic rapport is stronger when your therapist customizes your treatment to your needs, which may be influenced by factors such as your cultural background, gender identity, therapy preferences, and attachment style.
  • Genuineness: When your therapist is genuine, it allows you to see them as a human being, not just a mental health professional. If you see your therapist as being genuine, you are more likely to positively receive critical feedback about your progress.

Recap

There are a number of things a therapist can do to help help build therapeutic rapport. This includes being genuine, responsive, flexible, and collaborative.

Providing Feedback

Although you are there for your therapist's expert advice, you are also the client. Providing feedback to your therapist is another way to help develop a good rapport. By asking for feedback, your therapist indicates they see you as an active participant in the healing process. This is why it is important to be so honest.

Asking a client for feedback:

  • Shows your therapist cares about what you think and values your input.
  • Gives you space to bring up anything that's bothering you about your treatment and individual sessions. If you sense that your therapist is genuine, you will also realize that therapists are human and aren't perfect.
  • Encourages teamwork between the two of you.
  • Allows your therapist to repair any damage to your therapeutic relationship, whether it's real or perceived.

Remember that everyone is different, and what works in a treatment plan for one person may not work for you. Your therapist can recognize your uniqueness by providing feedback about anything that doesn't seem to be working for you as an individual.

When your child is in therapy, their therapist should also develop a good rapport with the parents or guardians. Having a good relationship with a client's caregivers helps facilitate parental involvement and engagement in the therapy process.

Therapeutic Rapport in Online and Telehealth Therapy

With the advent of online and telephone options for therapy, the importance of therapeutic rapport is just as important but more difficult to develop and assess. Typed messages and communications on the phone are more difficult to interpret since neither the client nor the therapist can visualize important body language clues.

Online therapy—which incorporates audio, video, and other ways of communicating—may be better since the therapist and client can see one another and pick up nonverbal cues more easily. If you consider distance therapy, keep this in mind and ask potential therapists how they work with this issue.

When You Lack Therapeutic Rapport With Your Therapist

Just as there are some painters who may do a better job painting your house, there are some therapists that do a better job of establishing rapport. Yet, based on the definition of rapport, this effort is two-sided and requires effort on the part of both the therapist and the client.

That said, personality can play a large role in developing rapport with your therapist. Even if a therapist is very compassionate and a client is very motivated to address their mental health issues, there are times when personalities simply don't mix.

If you find yourself in this category, don't fret. Finding the right therapist for you isn't always quick and easy. When it doesn't seem like a good match, talk about the issue with your therapist and ask if they can refer you to someone who might be a better fit.

There are many good therapists out there. You may need to talk to more than one therapist before you find one who can best support your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I find a good therapist?

    Begin your search by thinking about who you might feel most comfortable talking with. You might feel more inclined to share with a therapist who is of a certain age or gender, or you might want to search for a culturally sensitive therapist.

    Next, search for a professional by asking friends or your doctor for a referral, looking through directories provided by your insurance provider, or looking online. Check their credential and background and narrow your search down. Schedule an initial appointment, and then check in with yourself to see how you feel after that first appointment.

  • What can I do if I’m anxious about therapy?

    It's normal to feel anxious before you first therapy appointment, especially if it is your first time trying therapy. The good news is that you can talk about these apprehensions in therapy. Your therapist can help you explore these feelings and help you to feel more comfortable during your sessions.

  • How do I end my relationship with my therapist?

    If it just doesn't seem to be working, talk to your therapist instead of just quitting therapy. It's possible that your therapist can adapt their approach based on your concerns, but they can also recommend another therapist who might be better equipped to meet your needs. But if they don't seem receptive to feedback, it is okay to find another therapist.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.