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The Building of Rapport Is Often Considered one of the Most Important Aspects of a Hypnotherapists Work, Discuss

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The building of rapport is often considered one of the most important aspects of a Hypnotherapists work, discuss. [2000 words]

The creation of rapport is a social skill that comes naturally to many people and relates to a feeling of ‘connectedness’ between people. It specifically refers to the quality of relationship happening in a conversation and, as such, rapport exists on a sliding scale. When people ‘build rapport’, they are working on improving their connection with someone, usually by highlighting the degree of ‘sameness’ between them (demonstrated, for example, by physical appearance, language/words used, qualities of voice, beliefs/values and body language). O’Connor and Lages (2004) define rapport as “a relationship of mutual respect and influence” which comes from “an honest attempt to understand the other person in their terms”. In other words, rapport is about creating a feeling of being ‘in sync’ with each other, by relating in such a way that a trusting and understanding relationship can be created.

Establishing good rapport can be crucial to effective therapy and hypnotherapists need to build flexibility in this skill to be able to deal with the wide variety of individuals they might encounter in a therapy context. People tend to feel most connected and relaxed with people similar to themselves and, as it’s unlikely that every client will have similar traits to their therapist, hypnotherapists may need to ‘simulate’ similarities to establish comfortable levels of connection. As Hogan et al. (1961) state “without rapport and a sense of affinity between the therapist and client, it is rarer for significant changes to take place.” Indeed, it has been estimated that 30% of client change occurs because of the quality of the therapeutic relationship (Lambert, 1992; Lambert and Barley, 2001) and rapport provides a strong foundation for this to develop. It has also been postulated that rapport may even improve client assessment and the achievement of expected treatment outcomes (DeLaune and Ladner, 1998). This highlights the need to build good rapport as early as possible in the therapeutic relationship, to ensure its full benefits are realised throughout the entire assessment and therapy process. Clinical evidence is mounting which validates the association between good rapport and positive client outcomes (Mejo, 1989; O’Connor et al., 1985; Paley and Lawton, 2001) and, as such, hypnotherapists should strive to help their clients benefit from the advantages good rapport can provide.

Rapport skills enable hypnotherapists to consistently and efficiently get into a state of connectedness with their clients, leading to more of their communication being uncritically accepted. A certain amount of ‘placebo effect’ operates in relation to hypnotherapy - for it to be successful, the client needs to believe in both the process and their therapist so they can ‘surrender’ to the experience (Hogan et. al. 1961). The state of rapport supports this, as it helps to reduce anxiety in the client and creates greater trust in the hypnotherapist. This in turn relaxes the ‘barrier/filter’ between the client’s subconscious and conscious mind, the Conscious Critical Faculty (CCF), meaning the hypnotherapist’s suggestions are less likely to be analysed or criticised and more likely to be acceped by the subconscious.

Both verbal and non-verbal techniques have been developed, and, various attitudes have been highlighted, that can help hypnotherapists to rapidly create rapport with clients.

A variety of verbal techniques can be used from first contact to help establish and maintain rapport. For example, open questions, which are designed to elicit longer responses, not only help to collect information by encouraging conversation, but also signal interest and caring to learn more about the client’s situation. Clarifying techniques help to check the hypnotherapist’s understanding and enable deeper exploration, as well as reassuring the client that what they have said is valid and worthy of being listened to. Paraphrasing, whereby the hypnotherapist reflects ‘the essence’ of what has been said by repeating back the content/facts, helps the client to feel both heard and understood, whilst also demonstrating empathy on the part of the therapist. Reflecting involves repeating back words that relate to the feelings the client is expressing, which helps support further identification and clarification and builds greater understanding between both parties. Summarising is where the hypnotherapist returns the essence of what has been said overall, allowing for any misunderstandings to be corrected for focus to be maintained. Verbal matching, which involves the hypnotherapist matching the actual words spoken (sensory predicates), the speech volume and tonality used, can be particularly useful for building rapport, as it involves respectfully entering the client’s ‘model of the world’. As most people favour one of four types of sensory-based systems for understanding the world (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Auditory-Digital), it can be helpful to pick up on key words that reveal the client’s preferred system (e.g. Visual = ‘look’, ‘bright’; Auditory = ‘tell’, ‘resonate’; Kinaesthetic = ‘touch’, ‘feel’; Auditory-Digital = ‘process’, ‘consider’), so that those and similar words can be used to build rapport and meaningful connections. Voice matching, in relation to tonality, rate and volume can create a deep sense of alignment and is most effective when done subtly. Hypnotherapists can make slight adjustments to their normal voice so that it is more like their client’s, such as by making the pitch more in sync, matching the pace of words spoken, and increasing or decreasing their speech volume to be more alike to that of their client. In doing so they are creating almost unconscious similarities, which can lead to deep levels of rapport.

Non-verbal techniques that support rapport-building include using open body language, mirroring and matching, and, maintaining comfortable eye contact. When verbal and nonverbal signals contradict each other, we are five times more likely to believe the nonverbal signal (Argyle et al., 1971). As such, non-verbal techniques can be the key to successful rapport-building, as they involve connecting at a more unconscious level, largely outside of the awareness of the client. As body language often reflects feelings and attitudes held at this deeper level of consciousness, hypnotherapists can choose to use non-verbal communication to demonstrate helpful characteristics for the purposes of building rapport. For example, open body language can communicate honesty, openness and trustworthiness; leaning forward can be used to demonstrate an interest in what the other person has to say; nodding suggests agreement and/or understanding, as well as an openness to hear more about what is being said; gestures can be used to categorise experiences, provide analogue marking for key points and to encourage further analysis; and, smiling can help to create a feeling of warmth and acceptance. People who are enjoying each other’s company naturally fall into a pattern of matching and mirroring whilst conversing. Hypnotherapists can artificially create this outward sign of attunement by mirroring (copying the behaviour of another person, as if reflecting their movements back to them) and matching (similar behaviours, with a longer delay before doing so) the external communication cues of their client. For example, they may begin by mirroring the way their client is seated, match them by brushing hair from their face shortly after them, then move on to match their rate of their breathing and/or blink rate. When done discretely and respectfully these techniques can create deep feelings of positivity, responsiveness and rapport. Often referred to as ‘the windows to the soul’, the eyes hold an important role in communicating internal thought processes. There is also no doubt that the eyes play a role in the building of rapport. Eye contact signals attention, interest and connection, and, research has even shown that “a clinician's gaze significantly affects medical encounters” (Montague E et al. 2011). In Western culture, people tend to maintain eye contact for approximately 60% of the time and hypnotherapists should aim to mirror these comfortable levels with their client.  

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