How to make clients feel safe in therapy is something we are taught in our training. But, today I want to share some little tips that go above and beyond the obvious mechanisms to foster safety with clients.
Keep in mind, this article is anecdotal. Your approach will depend on what population you work with, and your therapeutic style. I am going to share what I have found to help my clients feel safe in the work that I do.
Also, please remember that these tips are “extras”. I’m not talking about the crucial safety pieces that we learn about in school and in our therapy training.
Today I am touching on the things that go above and beyond. So, if you aren’t doing all of these things, it doesn’t mean you are necessarily creating an unsafe environment. These tips are just “extras”!
Ways To Foster Safety For Your Clients
1) Name your fees & accepted insurance on your website/online profile
- This is not something you have to do. Rather, this is something that is up to your discretion.
- Personally, I choose to post this information. I do so because I am aware of how difficult it already is for clients to find a therapist that is the right fit.
- Creating transparency for your client from the beginning can help foster a feeling of safety.
- If you want to deep dive this topic, I have an article on deciding if you should post your rates online.
2) Clearly Name Every Step To Book With You
- Tell clients the exact steps for booking an initial session on your website.
- For example, you may list: fill out contact form, initial phone screen, intake paperwork and then attend the first session.
- This gives your clients an idea of what to expect when booking with you.
- It helps build trust and makes clients feel safe in therapy.
3) Tell Clients What To Expect For First Session
- This is along the same lines as the tip above.
- Tell clients exactly what to expect when they first arrive at your office. Or what to expect the first time they log into your teletherapy platform.
- Reaching out to a therapist and booking the first session is incredibly anxiety-producing. Any little tidbits you can give to new clients about what their experience will be like will help them feel comfortable and mentally prepared for their first appointment.
4) Consider Appropriate Self-Disclosure In Marketing Materials
- This can depend on the population you work with and your therapeutic orientation.
- Consider small, appropriate self-disclosure in your marketing to build trust.
- For example, you might say: “I’m really passionate about working with folks who…” instead of: “I help folks who…”
5) Keep Client Chair Flush Against The Wall
- If the chair is in the center of the room or away from a wall, the client may feel uncomfortable.
6) Clear Exit Route From Clients To Door
- This is particularly true for folks who have more trauma in their background.
- Being able to clearly see how to exit can bring comfort to clients.
7) Ask How To Make Space More Comfortable
- I don’t do this with every client, but I do when clients seem visibly tense or uncomfortable.
- Folks may respond with a range of replies. They may ask for something as simple as a cup of water. Or they may ask to rearrange the furniture to make them more comfortable. Follow through within reason.
- You can problem-solve together if the change they request isn’t reasonable for you to accommodate.
8) Acknowledge When You Don’t Know Something
- Acknowledge aloud when you don’t know something.
- Say, “Oh that’s interesting, I haven’t dealt with that before. I’ll have to look into that/consult and get back to you later.”
- Voicing that we don’t have all the answers can demonstrate that we are a person of integrity. It can show that we are prioritizing our clients’ needs rather than making sure we look like we know what we are talking about.
9) Approach Differences With Curiosity
- If your client shares something about themselves that you’re not familiar with, be curious.
- This could include any different cultural, religious, political, or lifestyle perspective from yours.
- Say, “Can you tell me a little more?” “What’s that like for you?” “What does that mean to you?”
10) Embrace Your Humanity
- Let yourself laugh about rather than apologize for your own humanity.
- For example, when you need to pee in the middle of a session. Or when needing to clear your throat or take a drink of water.
- We’re modeling how to approach these things for our clients.
- It also helps pivot things back to your client much faster.
11) Let Small Tangents Happen Occasionally
- Let small tangents happen from time to time.
- Some clients may need stricter boundaries with this if they wander away completely or avoid challenging topics altogether.
- But tangents are a form of exploration and free association.
- Letting our clients’ thoughts wander a little bit can create opportunities to discover something new together.
- It can also be a coping tool for clients. It lets them take a mental break from something challenging before returning to that topic.
12) Consider Showing Your Emotions (When Appropriate)
- Show your emotions. Again, within reason and when it’s appropriate.
- I used to try to hide my reactions as much as possible, but even then they would sometimes slip through on my face.
- I’ve been surprised to find how often my emotional reactions to a clients’ trauma or difficulty is what sticks with them more than anything else.
- So consider when showing your reactions to your clients’ experiences may support their health and healing.
13) Invite Feedback
- This is another way to acknowledge that we might not always know what is best for our clients. We might miss things.
- I’ve found that it’s best to make this an open-ended question.
- Rather than saying, “Is there anything we can change to make this process more helpful to you?” I like to ask something like: “What can we change to make counseling more supportive for you?”
I know many of these may seem so obvious that they may be second-nature to you. There are also many more ways to help make clients feel safe in therapy than I listed. Hopefully it was helpful to identify some of these in case there’s something new that gets you thinking about your own practices.
Other Ways To Help Clients Feel Safe
Check out my video on how hospitality can be a part of the therapy work as well. Tips from this video can also help you create a safe and welcoming space for clients.
Until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well.
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels
Photo by RDNE Stock project on Pexels