Signs of a strong therapeutic alliance
Whatever brings you to therapy, it’s important to know what makes a good therapy space; whether you’ve had counselling in the past or are seeking counselling for the first time. This article will aim to unpick what good therapy feels like, by looking at the different conditions needed to promote a good therapeutic relationship, for your experience of therapy to be most beneficial to you. This article is for anyone who might be curious about therapy, how it works and what you can expect from your therapist.
When considering therapy, it can feel daunting as you don’t know how it will feel or what it will be like, until you experience it. It might be the first time you’re seeking therapy, or you might have experienced counselling before. Either way, it’s important for you to know what you can expect from your therapist and to understand how therapy can help you.
Having counselling can feel like a huge step to take. It might also feel daunting and exposing, the idea of telling a stranger your deepest feelings might even stop you from making that step. You may have your own goals or things you want to change in order to feel different; stronger, more confident, to feel like you again. Counselling is a space for you to express yourself; to share your innermost feelings and subjective view of the world.
Vulnerability can feel like a scary word, but it doesn’t have to be. There is so much strength in vulnerability; the ability to sit with your emotions, however difficult, with a trusted person who won’t judge you, or tell you how to feel or what to think, can be empowering and should not be taken lightly. It can help you to understand yourself so much more; what motivates you, what your passions are, what scares you, shames you, makes you angry; these emotions and thought processes are all equally valid and just as important.
When you find a counsellor you can work with – because it’s important to find the right fit for you (one that you trust, respect, feel safe and comfortable to open up to) it can feel like the most supportive relationship you’ve ever had. The therapist will be focused on you without distractions. How many of us get that in daily life?
The main aim of therapy is to help you work through issues, at your pace, with professional support. It might not always feel comfortable as you bring up distressing experiences but there is power in getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. To reduce your fear and anxiety about it.
Ultimately, you are in control of your therapy, based on what you wish to bring to sessions and explore. If you do find anything too much in sessions, speak to your counsellor about it. They will help you work through the discomfort. It is a supportive alliance between client and therapist.
The therapeutic alliance is the working relationship that forms between client and therapist, to facilitate the process of therapy. The therapist will be aware of certain conditions to encourage the therapeutic alliance. For instance, from a place of non-judgment and empathy. Not feeling judged will help you to feel comfortable enough to be open and share your feelings with your therapist. It’s important you feel comfortable with your therapist, as rapport can take time to build.
Generally speaking, all relationships have a two-way system, meaning the strength of the therapeutic relationship is built on various but equally significant conditions. Firstly, communication is hugely important for the benefit of any interaction. Without good communication, relationships would break down very quickly. Communicating to your therapist that you are unable to attend a session, instead of just not turning up, can ensure a clear understanding of what is going on. Equally, the therapist letting you know with as much notice as possible that they are unable to hold the session shows respect and consideration for your time and feelings, which can feel validating.
Trust goes hand in hand with reliability and consistency. You can’t have one without the other. As a person seeking counselling you are putting your trust in someone that you haven’t met before. This can feel really scary especially if your trust has been broken in the past. Therapy needs to be consistent and needs to feel safe. Consistency refers to the therapist's behaviours in session e.g. they are focused on you each week rather than seeming distracted by external situations. They communicate consistently with you, meaning they don’t keep changing their communication style be it written or verbal. This can help you to feel more at ease with them as you learn what you can expect from them over time.
Reliability refers to their punctuality and attendance, not cancelling sessions last minute or too often. You need to be able to rely on them as a professional service you are using, especially as it is for the benefit of your mental and emotional well-being. Consistency is important for a sense of stability and safety in the relationship.
Boundaries are intrinsic to the therapy experience. They ensure safety and accountability between therapist and client. Boundaries are made up of guidelines of acceptable behaviour, such as limited contact between sessions, not socialising, and sessions being focused on what the client wishes to bring. It needs to feel safe and respectful. The therapist might have written guidelines outlining expected behaviours in the therapy space, or they might tell you verbally.
Respect can be shown in different ways; attending on time, following the guidelines of the agreement, and using the therapy space (online or in person) in a safe and appropriate way. As a therapist, respect can be shown by being attentive to what the client is saying, not finishing the session early, focusing on the client’s needs and agenda in the session and not being distracted by things going on outside of the therapy space.
Not feeling judged is particularly important to help you to open up to your counsellor. This goes hand in hand with feeling accepted by someone, where you feel comfortable and safe enough to express your thoughts and feelings to another person, without worry of being judged because of them. It is the freedom to be who you are.
The points above all contribute to the feeling of being part of a supportive alliance. This means feeling supported by your therapist in sessions.
To conclude, there are many different aspects to good therapy. It's about finding the right counsellor for you; one that you trust and feel comfortable with, able to be open in your sessions without fear of being judged by them. To help you work through your issues. Good therapy feels supportive and is boundaried; my counsellor is not my friend, however, it is somewhere I can bring my stress and tension, my messy thoughts. My therapist is someone I can work with to help me make sense of my stress. Good therapy feels enhancing and ultimately it has to feel right for you.