The Therapeutic Bond: Building Trust and Healing in Counseling
A statement we’ve heard way too many times goes something like, “a therapist is someone you pay to pretend to be your friend.” The relationship that we build with our clients is much different than a friendship in many (and necessary) ways. Research across time reflects that the therapeutic bond is the absolute most important factor in the success of counseling outcomes. We agree with this research as we have seen so much growth from the counseling process that is only possible through a healthy therapeutic relationship. At its core, the therapeutic bond serves as the foundation for healing, growth, and positive change and resilience.
What is the Therapeutic Bond, anyway?
This is sometimes called the therapeutic alliance, working alliance, or rapport. What makes the therapeutic bond “therapeutic” is largely due to the collaborative, goal directed nature of relationship between the counselor and the client in which we explore deep-rooted challenges, rewrite old narratives, create new patterns, and work toward personal growth. Different than other relationships, your counselor’s personal life is left at the door while we explore what works for you as an individual based on your own values, culture, religion, and experiences. We may self-disclose when we find it beneficial for you, however, we avoid countertransference. Instead, we operate in a way that facilitates trust, respect, empathy, and open communication focused on you as the client. This bond is essential for creating a safe and supportive environment where you can openly share thoughts, feelings, and experiences with your counselor without fear of judgment. You’re in the driver’s seat, and we’re here to help offer directions as you see fit. Counseling is a process that dives much deeper than simply discussing problems and seeking solutions, and the therapeutic bond allows your counselor to challenge you in a healthy and appropriate way to facilitate deep growth.
Key Elements of the Therapeutic Bond:
- Trust: The cornerstone of the therapeutic bond. You can rely on your counselor to maintain confidentiality and provide a non-judgmental space for all vulnerable thoughts and emotions. It’s important that you feel your counselor is genuine, provides unconditional positive regard, and trustworthy.
- Empathy: Rather than sympathy which is feeling sorry for you, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person - to feel “with” you. Empathy allows us to sense validation and acceptance, and to feel heard and understood. You aren’t alone in their struggles, and we’re here to normalize (not minimize) all the good, bad, and ugly. It’s important that your counselor encourages you to explore these emotions further.
- Respect: The absolute first thing we learn on our journey to become a counselor is respect: active listening, honoring boundaries, and treating you as the autonomous individual that you are. Feeling respected makes it possible to engage in the therapeutic process and collaborate with your counselor to achieve goals.
- Open Communication: Tell us what works and what doesn’t work for you. We’re here to help you, and we do genuinely care. The therapeutic relationship is one of transparency and authenticity. You can feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and concerns, which ultimately leading to more success of deeper self-exploration.
When you feel a strong therapeutic bond, you’re more likely to have a sense of motivation to actively participate in therapy, attend sessions regularly, complete homework assignments, and invest effort into the therapeutic process. You’ll feel comfortable exploring different perspectives and implementing new strategies to create personal growth.
Read more about the counselors we have on our team at Mindful Movements Counseling Center here.