Promoting connection is a central theme for our work and the theme for our 2024 SCCA conference. It is also a significant factor for our personal well-being. In our work as counselors, we certainly wish for our clients to be meaningfully connected with others. When we delve into our preferred theoretical modalities, we typically notice that in order for our clients to be well they need to feel connected to others. When we think of the safety planning we do for a client at risk for suicide, we notice how key elements of that safety plan relate to connecting with others. Even the goal setting processes for some counseling models (e.g., Motivational Interviewing) have clients consider who they can pull-in to help them with their goals. Consider also the Narrative therapy process of identifying the relationships that are compromised by “problem”. Connection is a big deal when it comes to the well-being of our clients.
Of course, the counseling relationship is dependent upon the therapeutic alliance, also referred to as rapport, which is at its heart connection. For each counseling modality, there are instructions about the optimal factors for the client and counselor relationship. Many of us place high importance on polishing our alliance/rapport building skills. We develop our use of empathy, non-verbal communication, accurate reflections, warmth, affirmation, genuineness, and commitment. It is fascinating to me how much we still need to wrap our varied approaches in those classic person-centered skills. It is noteworthy that our engagement with our clients serves as a buffer against the client’s risk for suicide.
Of course, as counselors we benefit immensely from connection both professionally and personally. I often see counselors doing a brilliant job with professional connection as they engage in peer supervision, peer groups that meet up for coffee or happy hour, and professional organizations where they can learn, share, and serve.
What about our personal connections? In our social lives, some of us work hard to maintain our friendships and stay connected to our “squad”. When not working, we might even endeavor to reduce the number of our one-way caring relationships (where we do most of the caring). This is rarely easy. We all know that modifying our connectedness can take energy, time, and patience. For some of us, especially us introverted people, it can take a great deal of energy to open ourselves to new connection. However difficult it may be, it is worth it. Connection is a necessary component to our well-being and our well-being as counselors is a necessary component to helping our clients.
Guy Ilagan, PhD, LPC/S, NCC