5 Tips on how to build trust with clients whom are very guarded:

1.Go at the client’s pace!

Where they begin is often where they are comfortable and feel safe. During the course of my therapeutic career I have found that going too fast too soon almost always backfires. It is much like the sayings goes; “Slow and steady wins the race!” It is very important to go at the client’s pace as this can give the client the message that they are safe, and that their feelings are valid. The best questions are often trauma informed and start off with How/What/When/Where.

If the client is having a hard time opening up and disclosing information you can ask the client to talk about something they are more comfortable with, in order for them to feel safe, and to be able to practice talking with you about something they identify as non-threatening. Allow, and give permission to your client to say no to you, or to request to talk about a sensitive or triggering topic when he/she is ready.

2. Always use EMPATHY and put yourself in their shoes!

Always remember to normalize and validate feelings of fear and worry about talking to a stranger. When you are talking to your new client remember; We are after all, strangers, and this experience of opening up can be very scary and triggering to clients whom experienced past traumatic events in their life.

I.E. Almost everyone has experienced a traumatic event! According to SAMHSA (April 29,2020) more than two thirds of children reported at least 1 traumatic event by age 16.

3. Empower your client with information!

We can empower our clients by discussing, exploring, and teaching them about how therapy works, and the clients/therapist’s expectations moving forward. Teach your client about your therapeutic approach, and on how therapy is a collaborative experience. Verbalize and express to your client hope for real positive change.

4. Use active listening techniques!

It may sound cliché and like you’ve heard this in Intro to therapy class but, the professors teach this for a reason! It is important to use a warm/caring and welcoming tone of voice and show that you care about what they are saying. You want to relay the message that you not only hear them but are listening in an effort to seek to understand them.

This also means they have your full and undivided attention!

5. Ask if they have any questions for you!

Often, I find that clients may initially not have any specific questions, normalize this too as they may still be processing the therapy session, and new information you provided! Ask and inform your client that if any questions come up after session to write it down somewhere safe so they don’t forget to ask you next time! You also want to welcome feedback and normalize their ability to give feedback about how they feel therapy is going for them, as this will also give you valuable information.


Always be as transparent as you can therapeutically be and be yourself! Don’t underestimate your client’s ability to notice genuineness!

All rights reserved © Jennifer Morejon, LMFT

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