According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Rapport” is defined as “a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.” Synonyms for rapport include ‘relation’ and ‘connection’. In the realm of psychotherapy, rapport is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the therapeutic relationship. Rapport is the connection that is built between the client and the therapist. Rapport is the foundation upon which all therapeutic work is then built. Without rapport, it is almost impossible for an individual to be able to gain trust in the therapist, and then be able to do the work that is essential to the recovery process.
Given the importance of rapport in the therapeutic relationship, it would be wonderful to make concrete the characteristics that are necessary in order to develop it. However, while rapport is somewhat easily defined as a connection between two people, the way to build the connection is less easily defined. In fact, the actual experience of rapport is somewhat difficult to describe in just a few words. Rapport is the ability to meet the client where they are at. By this, I mean that if the client is suffering and struggling in any way, it is important to meet them with understanding and compassion. If the client is apprehensive about opening up and trusting, the therapist must not push the client at first, but instead allow the client to set the tone and pace. If the client tends to isolate and hide, the therapist’s role is to help them to become comfortable enough to open up and share within a warm and therapeutic space. If the client presents with an attitude of “knowing it all,” then the therapist must slowly engage the client by challenging them as to whether there are, in fact, other possible ways to handle a situation.
Empathy is another word that is frequently used in the context of the therapeutic relationship. Empathy, by definition, is the ability to be able to place oneself in another’s situation. When thinking about empathy, the phrase, “put yourself in my shoes,” springs to mind. A therapist’s ability to empathize with a client is not just a skill, but actually more of a gift. In my humble opinion, empathy is an ability that not everyone possesses. Furthermore, while some may have the ability to feel empathy, for some it is characteristic that may need to be developed. A clinician’s ability to experience empathy is one of the most important driving forces in building the relationship, or rapport.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy, although the two terms are often confused. Sympathy is more of a passive term. Sympathy involves feeling sorry or sad for somebody’s situation. When someone loses a loved one, we have sympathy for them. Empathy, on the other hand, is less of a passive experience and more of an active one. With empathy, we actively try to place ourselves squarely in the shoes of another person, so that we can get the truest possible sense of how they must be feeling, and what they are experiencing at that moment. It is from this place, in the client’s shoes, that we are able to connect with them, because we have a greater ability to understand how they are feeling and why.
At Boca Recovery Center, our clinical therapists have been carefully chosen based not only on their academic training, but also on their ability to connect on a very human level. Our therapists have had their own personal experiences that, in one way or another, have shaped their innate ability to experience empathy. Our clinical therapists connect with our clients in such a way that allows our clients to feel safe and secure, to open up, and to share about the issues that have so often caused or resulted from their addiction. We have an open-door policy, so that when the clinician is not in a session, they are available for a quick check-in, a hello, or just a friendly smile. Our therapists are known for going above and beyond for our clients, and this means not just during regular business hours. While we are careful to foster independence and help our clients grow in self-esteem, they are able to do so surrounded by clinicians who are present, available, and genuinely caring.
Some past clients have described their experience at Boca Recovery Center as “a home away from home,” or “like a family.” The staff definitely experience this type of working atmosphere, and it is what propels me to wake up each morning and feel so grateful to be able to go to work in such a loving and nurturing environment. It is not unusual to hear the staff singing karaoke during recreational therapy. It is also not uncommon to run into our staff members at a local 12-step meeting. During holidays, our staff come together with our clients, so that everyone can experience a positive family vibe, whether to decorate the Christmas Tree, or create pot-luck meals for clients and staff to enjoy together.
Every client who comes through Boca Recovery Center is treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Loving arms are here, however firm guiding boundaries are also in place. Boca Recovery Center is a place where individuals can seek refuge from the harsh realities that come with living in addiction, and at the same time, they can work on the necessary goals and skills that will allow them to move towards a life of long-term sobriety. Most of our clients remain with us for at least four weeks, and some for four months or more. Our staff are available to our clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As a clinical team, we get to know the whole person, and we are blessed because we often get to see broken individuals who are then able to flourish and grow in our care. It is our ability to provide this safe, therapeutic environment that allows for this miraculous transition to occur. And really, it all starts with rapport.
By: Dr. Alison Tarlow, Psy.D., CAP