Body language in the therapy room
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Hi guys and welcome to blog number 3, so this time we are going to take a brief look at how body language can affect the therapeutic relationship and what should and shouldn’t be done when working with clients. Below is an extract from one of my first ever learning journals. I hope you enjoy the read and remember, any comments or questions just leave a message and I will get back to you.
Body language alongside active listening and open questioning is one of the most important aspects of the one on one counselling relationship. Body language is used especially to express feelings. The face is the most expressive part of the body and so the therapist should always be aware of their facial expressions. If the therapist is anxious for some reason then his/her facial expression may lead them to appear unapproachable, serious, or disinterested. In such situations the therapist can break this misrepresentation by making a conscious effort to smile. A Counsellor’s or hypnotherapists smile is one of the strongest tools which can make the client feel relaxed and comfortable and help build the rapport between therapist and client. The opposite is also true; the therapist can watch the clients face to see which emotions are being expressed when recalling a certain event. In some cases it is possible that the emotion being expressed by the body language is not the same as the emotion the client is telling you they are feeling, in these situations it is most likely that the body language is expressing the true emotion and that for a reason not yet known the client is trying to keep this from you by masking it and saying they are feeling another way. It is also possible for some clients to mask their body language but this is less common and would require them to have an understanding of body language themselves. It is hard for a client to disguise their body language without having an understanding of the signals it gives off. If they attempt this subconsciously they will show closed body language which in itself is then open to interpretation.
Another key skill in using body language is for the therapist to maintain an open posture so that the client feels they are getting their fully attention during the session. This can be done by ensuring you maintain open posture such as arms and legs unfolded, maintaining eye contact and sitting upright in your chair and appearing engaged and showing the client they have your full attention. Although maintaining open posture is important another key body language skill is to mirror the body language of the client. If done well this will help the client feel relaxed and will aid in the building of rapport. However it is important that this is done well. It must be done subtly so that the client doesn’t think you are mimicking them. In the case of body language or attempting to stare them out in the case of eye contact, it is easy to see that if this situation occurs it would greatly damage the relationship between therapist and client. There are also other subtle things the therapist can do with their body language to show they are engaged with the client. These are things such as a small nod of the head at the appropriate times to show they have understood. A lesser known body language skill is to maintain open hand posture, an example of which is to have your hands in your lap with the palms facing slightly in and up, the showing of palms whilst communicating is a gesture of honesty and openness.
It is said that somewhere between 60-80% of communication is expressed though body language as opposed to being vocalized. You can see from this how important it is for a therapist to have good understanding of body language, for them to have control over their own and the ability to interact with their clients accurately. I would say that body language is not just an important part of the counselling relationship but one of the most important parts, if the therapist has bad body language and “gives off a poor vibe” then there will be no chance for the building of rapport and the therapeutic relationship will soon fail and the client will move on to another therapist.
Well that’s it for this post, I hope you enjoyed my brief description which was first written when I was training (feels a long time ago now!).
If you have any suggestions for future posts please let me know.