Trust is of course a very important factor in peoples’ relationships. If we do not trust a person, then there is no relationship. Without trust, no relationship can last, as people have to be comfortable with each other for a relationship to have stability, clarity, mutual empathy and responsiveness. So, we see that trust is vital. It is important not only in everyday relationships, but equally in the therapeutic one. Trust is in fact considered the cornerstone of counselling and psychotherapy, as being able to trust the therapist means being able to receive the corrective emotional experience that has perhaps been lacking in relationships to date.
Enough trust in the therapeutic relationship is crucial because it regulates the degree to which clients allow themselves to become committed to, or to have faith in the integrity of that relationship. That is to say that, clients will only be willing to take a risk in trusting the therapist if they truly believe that the therapist cares about what the client is going through, and genuinely wants to help. Clients will only risk becoming attached to the therapeutic relationship if they feel that their empathy and trust is also reciprocated by the therapist.
When a therapist listens to the client talk about their issues with real empathy and care, it shows genuine concern that clients can sense from the therapist and can truly believe. This leads to the client knowing that they are safe within this relationship and that their information is safe within the four walls of the relationship. It likewise allows clients to feel far less anxious about being judged, rejected, or disbelieved. This is so important in therapy as clients will not begin to open up to the therapist about their unresolved trauma without feeling that the therapeutic relationship is a solid, and a safe one.
Therapy for Trust Issues
There are many therapeutic approaches that can support a client to work on trust but in this article, I will primarily focus on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and Psychodynamic Therapy. Other therapy approaches can include Person Centred Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Psychoanalytical Therapy, etc.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a useful style of therapy to incorporate into counselling to support clients who may have trust issues before coming to therapy. It affords them the space to examine how trust issues affect them in their daily lives. It is a style of therapy that looks at core beliefs, or the messages that we have internalised growing up about ourselves. If we learned that we could not trust a parent, a teacher, or whoever it was that let us down in life, then we can carry this belief forward into adult life, believing that all people are not to be trusted, or that we ourselves are not worthy of trust.
CBT gets to root of trust issues, letting us see what we believe about trust and about our relationships, how this belief affects our relationships. It helps us examine whether our belief is actually true and what we want to do about it. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is another branch of CBT that examines the evidence that our beliefs are true. It aids in diminishing self-defeating thoughts and behaviours, allowing us to test old beliefs and create knew and healthy ones.
For example, if our teacher always told us that we were useless or not too bright in school, and we were told this regularly, we may eventually start to believe it. We may then leave school believing that we are not intelligent enough to go to college or to hold down a decent job. So, if we examine this belief and look at our overall performance in school, we may find that actually we were only weak at a subject or two, that we had good friends and were generally liked and accepted by peers and other teachers.
This information helps us see that one teacher is the common denominator in our negative belief that we cannot and will not ever achieve. This one person was not to be trusted and the other relationships were okay. We see now that largely, we achieved well enough in school and therefore could achieve well enough at anything else we put our minds to too. Sometimes it takes an unbiased therapist to help clients slowly tease through those negative beliefs to see what is true and what is not, and to free our minds up to see the truth about ourselves and our relationships.
The past usually plays a large part of our problems in the here and now. Through Psychodynamic Therapy, a therapist can investigate past experiences relating to where we first may have felt let down, or when trust was broken. The feelings at that time can be explored to instigate a re-enactment of the event in order to play it out again and discover the thoughts and feelings at that time that were carried forward into the present and that prevent us forming trust in relationships today.
In this way we can also look at what we felt was true then, but that we see was never really true at all. It was most likely more to do with what was happening at the time for someone else that we got the backlash from and were badly impacted by. So, awareness is a crucial part of therapy. Awareness of old beliefs, behaviours and patterns is important, as well as looking at why and how they no longer serve us in a healthy way.
Trusting the Therapist
A genuine therapist will express a deep interest in a clients’ needs and be able to relate to them sensitively, attuned to a clients’ state of mind in the moment. The therapist will help clients to reflect on how they are feeling and through exploring this in therapy can highlight new perspectives, or other ways of looking at beliefs, and of looking at relationships.
Building trust takes time. It doesn’t happen just because we want it to, and talk is cheap. Trust in therapy is only truly evident when the therapist follows through on what she says. For example, if the client was badly let down in the past, if a therapist makes a mistake in therapy or feels she has done something wrong, like making a judgement that wasn’t correct, it’s very important that the therapist addresses this, apologises and takes on board how the client was impacted by this judgement in the first place.
Doing this shows the client that mistakes can be made in relationships, but the therapist shows genuineness and commitment to maintaining that relationship through talking things through, finding out where they went wrong and ensuring that this doesn’t happen again. Taking an interest in putting things right, shows clients that they matter, that their feelings count, and that the therapeutic relationship actually is a relationship where clients are listened to and where their feelings count.
Clients with trust issues need a therapist who will guide them through their trust issues in a way that keeps the therapeutic space an emotionally safe place to be. This is achieved by the therapist delivering what she has to say in a manner that feels informative to the client but not critical. The client then learns that the therapeutic relationship is safe, free from negativity and becomes a place where self-esteem and confidence can grow. Trust is a sensitive and vulnerable part of every relationship.
The therapeutic relationship is an exceptional relationship where clients learn that trust can be achieved, while learning that not everyone in their lives can be graced with that trust. Clients learn healthy boundaries, like how to maintain relationships without being taken advantage of or taken for granted. In this way clients show others how they wish to be treated and what they will and will not accept in their relationships today.
This article was written by Michelle Fowler, a newly qualified and pre-accredited psychotherapist at The DMC Clinic. If you have experienced or are experiencing any of the issues mentioned in this article, please contact The DMC Clinic to make an appointment with a counsellor.
Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. (2022). What if I don’t trust my therapist? https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/i-dont-trust-my-therapist.htm
Footscray Counselling Centre. (2022). The importance of trusting the therapeutic relationship. https://footscraycounsellingcentre.com.au/2019/08/05/the-importance-of-a-trusting-therapeutic-relationship/
Heitler, S. (2022). 3 ways a therapist establishes trust in therapy. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201206/3-ways-therapist-establishes-trust-in-therapy