What Methods Do Clinical Psychologists Use to Build Rapport With New Patients?


    What Methods Do Clinical Psychologists Use to Build Rapport With New Patients?

    Building a strong foundation of trust with a new patient is crucial, and we've gathered five methods from professionals in the field to show you how. From a Therapist's use of humor to validate experiences to a Senior Play Therapist's facilitation of choice in play therapy, these insights come from a spectrum of experts including Therapists and Licensed Clinical Psychologists.

    • Use Humor to Validate Experiences
    • Employ Empathetic Curiosity
    • Practice Active Listening
    • Inquire About Personal Interests
    • Facilitate Choice in Play Therapy

    Use Humor to Validate Experiences

    During sessions, I find that the best way to build rapport is to validate using humor. It's a great way to help build the client's trust while also lessening the awkward tension that comes with a first appointment. I had a recent client share his experience with anxiety and going to work. "Wow, it's wild that your brain wakes up every morning and says, 'We need to prepare to fight a tiger,' but instead you drive to the movie theater. That has to be awkward when the only tigers you fight are popcorn buckets." This is disarming for the client while at the same time validating the experience of contrast they've felt between the extreme anxiety they have about mundane experiences.

    Brady Clegg
    Brady CleggTherapist, Tangible Mental Health

    Employ Empathetic Curiosity

    Empathetic curiosity. Empathy is important for the client to feel like you're in it with them, and it helps to build a meaningful connection where they feel heard, seen, and not alone with the problem. And I genuinely get to know my client as a person, rather than just the 'problem'.

    Ronald Hoang
    Ronald HoangRelationship & Family Therapist, Ronald Hoang Marriage Counselling & Family Therapy Sydney

    Practice Active Listening

    Active listening is one of the best ways for clinical psychologists to establish rapport with their new patients. This is when the psychologist pays full attention to the patient, listens carefully to what they have to say, and responds thoughtfully. Even if it's just the initial session, showing the patient that you are genuinely concerned and interested in their well-being can go a long way in building trust and rapport.

    Also, when a patient knows that someone is truly listening, they will feel heard, validated, and understood. This will encourage them to open up more and trust the psychologist, making it much easier to build the bond necessary for effective therapy.

    Joni Ogle
    Joni OgleLicensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, The Heights Treatment

    Inquire About Personal Interests

    Although there are many methods I use to build rapport with a new client during an initial consultation, one thing I make sure to ask all new clients about is interests or things about themselves that are unrelated to why they are seeking therapy. So much of therapy is focused on why the client is here or what they want to change; however, I believe building rapport and trust comes from learning who the client is outside of their hardships and struggles and how the things bringing them to therapy may be impacting the core things that make the client the client. By collecting information about hobbies, interests, strengths, or other characteristics, I can utilize those within the first few sessions to continue to build trust and rapport and cultivate a safe space where I am getting to know the client for who they are, not just the presenting problem(s). I have found this allows clients to open up more easily in therapy about the more challenging topics.

    Jessica Rabon
    Jessica RabonLicensed Clinical Psychologist

    Facilitate Choice in Play Therapy

    As a Registered Play Therapist, I work primarily with children and teens. I use non-directive play therapy with my younger clients, in which I allow them to choose what they would like to do by stating that in the playroom, they can play just about anything they want to play and say anything they want to say. Giving them the freedom to choose allows them to feel more comfortable in a new and scary environment, and I can follow along with their play to engage them through the use of reflecting the content of what they are playing, basically narrating their play. For older children and teens, sometimes doing 'get to know you' questions is helpful and eases the tension of having to discuss the difficult topics of what brought them to counseling until they are more comfortable with me. Playing games is also a way to engage children of all ages because it gives them something to focus on without really having to talk. It is important for me to watch a child's body language and gauge how nervous or uncomfortable they might be so that I can match my responses to their needs and allow them to just 'be.' In turn, I can just 'be with' them so they can see that I am present with them in the moment, and they are accepted just the way they are. This might mean we sit quietly and do nothing at all for however long they need to 'just be.' Forcing a child to go too fast before they are comfortable may actually delay the rapport-building process and damage the therapeutic relationship, which is truly the key to a successful therapy experience.

    Alice Payne HeathSenior Play Therapist, Calming Communities Counseling and Wellness PLLC