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Developing a person-centred relationship 

Adapted from: W. Skinner, “Identifying, Assessing and Treating Concurrent Disorders: The Client-Counsellor Relationship,” in Treating Concurrent Disorders (© 2005 CAMH)

The first step is to engage the client in an empathic, welcoming manner and build a rapport to facilitate open disclosure of information regarding mental health and substance use problems, and related issues. The aim is to establish a “person-centred” relationship by creating a safe and nonjudgmental environment in which sensitive personal issues may be discussed.

Tips for developing a person-centred approach

Clinicians need to develop a person-centred approach from the client’s first involvement with the health care system.

  • Figure out who your client is – is it the person with the substance use and mental health problems, a family member, the court or the referral source?
  • Identify and acknowledge the client’s point of view.
  • Find out what the client wants. Is it the same as what others involved (family, friends, employer, court, probation) are looking for?
  • Identify and affirm the person’s strengths, competencies, interests and resources.
  • Think small – keep the big picture in mind, but look for the small steps that move things in the right direction.
  • Remember that the person is not the problem, and separate the person from the problems.
  • Be aware (and beware) of other people’s evaluations.
  • You want the client to be committed to the helping process: commit yourself to the client.
  • Change happens – especially if you believe in it!

For more about the client-counsellor relationship, see “Identifying, Assessing and Treating Concurrent Disorders: The Client-Counsellor Relationship” in Treating Concurrent Disorders (PDF only).



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