When communicating with clients, flexibility and responsiveness are two of the most beneficial skills a counsellor can have. Different mindsets and emotional states require a particular approach; and the counsellor’s ability to adjust to a client’s needs normally dictates the outcome of that relationship. In order to better exemplify the diversity of mindsets which clients may approach counselling with, we’ve created five generic client profiles – along with strategies to help improve the relationship and enhance client-counsellor rapport.

Profile 1: An emotionally unstable client

The client is emotionally unstable and finding difficulty in expressing him/herself.

Emotionally unstable clients normally require a client-centred approach which enforces the need to establish rapport and trust, and to ensure the client is aware that he or she is in a safe and friendly environment. The client will normally have difficulty in expressing him/herself because he/she is unable or not ready to deal with emotions.

Counselling strategies to establish rapport would include: using self-disclosure to relate to the client’s situation and create an emotional link; creating goals and accountability in order to encourage action from the client; providing transparency and positivity through communication.

Profile 2: An involuntary or skeptical client

The client has been forced to attend to counselling (e.g. legally mandated).

This type of client may be difficult to deal with in the early stages of the relationship. Normally, he or she will be skeptical about the process, and may not acknowledge any need to change. It is important for the therapist to gain respect from the client, and use that respect to establish trust.

One of the most common strategies to gain respect and create responsiveness from the client is to outline the process of counselling: what he or she is there for; what is the structure of the relationship; what are the rights and duties of the client; what might be the expected positive outcomes. Solution-focused strategies are a good way to create a sense of accountability and need for change.

Profile 3: The child

The client is a young child or adolescent.

Dealing with children is always challenging as there is a perceived ‘bigger’ communication gap. The goal for the counsellor is to establish trust using humour; engaging in activities such as games; encouraging a collaborative approach; using self-disclosure and; role-playing. Expressive therapies are also utilised by many therapists to help improve communication with young clients.

Profile 4: The uncommitted client

Lack of commitment can be a challenging problem in the counselling setting. Normally, a client with little or no commitment has a specific agenda which justifies their attendance at a counselling session (an example would be a husband who was asked by his wife to attend counselling in order to preserve their marriage).

Framing and re-framing are good tactics to re-model the way the client perceives the counselling relationship: shifting from the ‘helping’ mode to the collaborative approach. Creating goals and structuring will also motivate the client to go through the necessary stages for change, collect the rewards, and move on with his/her own life.

Profile 5: the demanding client

A demanding client will normally believe that the counsellor will provide answers to his/her problems. They will come to counselling without much resolve to act upon their current situation, and will normally create very unrealistic expectations regarding the counselling relationship and the counsellor.

Again, encouraging accountability, managing expectations and establishing well-planned goals is a good approach. The client should be encouraged to realise that change can only occur from within. Using role-playing, narrative therapy skills, and/or a solution-focused approach to empower and encourage the client may be the key for deriving motivation.