Quick Tips for Therapists

How Can You Energize the Therapeutic Relationship When It Appears to Be Waning?

By Robyn D. Walser, PhD

During therapy, there are times when the relationship with the client seems to lose its energy. This can happen for many reasons but might be related to such issues as lack of change, loss of direction, long-term engagement, or even other problems such as ruptures or boredom.

If you have found this lack of energy unfolding in your therapy sessions, it might be time to get reinspired—connecting again to the purpose or meaning of the work. At times, it may seem that the client needs to do something differently; however, therapists can “lean into” the therapy in ways that bring energy back to the room.

These ideas might help you to reenergize a waning therapeutic relationship:

· Reflect on and adjust your therapeutic “presence.”

Maybe it’s time to review how you show up in the room. Is your whole self engaged in the encounter? Are you present in mind, body, and spirit? If your presence is fading, consider a mindfulness exercise or set an intention before each session. Also, consider if it is time to take a break. Reengaging sometimes means getting a little self-care away from your practice.

· Consider doing something bold.

Taking risks is a part of change. Modeling boldness in therapy shows a readiness to take risks; something your client might need to see. Remember, being bold includes both genuine presence and courage. Being bold is not about condescension, patronization, or abuse. It is authentic and inspiring. Being bold might mean sharing something you have been afraid to say or do with your client. It might be addressing the state of the relationship directly, or it might even include ending the relationship if appropriate.

· Use perspective taking.

Here you can either take perspective on yourself or take a moment to “sit” in your client’s shoes. If you observe your own behavior and look at your interaction with a client through time, what do you notice? Have you changed the way you interact? Do you engage less? Are you bored or irritated? Take time to notice your experience with a particular client across sessions. It might aid in discovering what has led to the change in your relationship. If you take your client’s perspective, tune in to what must be happening for them, and observe how they might view you. This, too, can be informative and motivate reengagement.

· Connect to compassionate immediacy.

Here you are invited to consider the client’s need for change. Life is short, and languishing in a waning therapeutic relationship gives up precious moments of values-based living. Lean in now! But also, with compassion.

· Finally, revisit your personal values about being a therapist.

Connect to the purpose and meaning you find in the therapeutic work. Bring that purpose with you to the session.

Robyn D. Walser, PhD, is director of TL Consultation and Psychological Services, and codirector of Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinical Services. She works at the National Center for PTSD, developing and disseminating innovative ways to translate science into practice; and serves as assistant clinical professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. As a licensed clinical psychologist, she maintains an international training, consulting, and therapy practice. Walser has authored and coauthored six books: The Heart of ACT, Learning ACT, The Mindful Couple, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma-Related Problems, and ACT for Clergy and Pastoral Counselors.

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Quick Tips for Therapists