It tends to go without say these days within the field of hypnotherapy, and many therapeutic modalities, that rapport is important to enhance the results we get in our therapy rooms. Though I think there are exceptions to this (some people do indeed respond therapeutically and favourably to therapy when there is no rapport, or even a dislike for the therapist), in general we tend to aim to create a collaborative, effective working therapeutic alliance with our clients.
If we want the client to trust us as their therapist and gain the benefits of that trusting therapeutic relationship, then rapport is one way that most therapists go about it. The validity of rapport per sé is not my point for discussion today, but could easily be a deep and lengthy blog post or point of discussion by itself.
For anyone who has had some training in the field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), they’ll undoubtedly have been taught that one way to develop rapport with clients is to match and mirror. That is, we subtly are advised to match the language and non-verbal communication of the client in order that a similarity is shared and this makes total sense to anyone when first introduced to the concept.
We all tend to get on with people who have similar interests and perspectives with us, don’t we? Surely then, this stretches to having rapport when someone is being like us, albeit with language and non-verbal matching.
Many of my colleagues, peers and friends report that matching and mirroring in a wide range of ways is indeed the best way to gain rapport. However, there does seem to be a distinct lack of evidence to support this beyond anecdotal and subjective accounts.
I wonder if the reason that so many people encounter success with this process of matching and mirroring is because they are expecting it to work so well, perhaps they even filter the reality of the situation to assume that they have rapport because they are employing subtle means of matching and mirroring and believe in its efficacy so much. Or is this uncharitable?
One opponent to the notion of matching and mirroring to gain rapport is Michael Heap and in his paper entitled ‘The Validity Of Some Early Claims Of Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ which can be found here, he succinctly sums up the notion of matching and mirroring:
“The final assertion from the early NLP literature to be considered here is that to achieve effective communication and gain trust and rapport, communicators (such as counsellors and psychotherapists) should match, mirror or pace the other person’s verbal and non-verbal behaviour (e.g. aspects of speech, body posture, breathing and blinking), thereby tuning into his or her representation of the world. This can be done directly, such as by matching the person’s body movements or breathing pattern with one’s own, or indirectly, say by slightly nodding one’s head in time with the person’s breathing or following the person’s blinking with a finger movement. These manoeuvres were promoted as being highly effective and they influenced other authors.”
It does go further than this though, and specific language ;predicates’ are also looked out for and matched accordingly with the NLP model.
For example, if an individual were to say, ‘I can’t handle this’ a hypnotherapist is encouraged not to reply, ‘I see what you are saying’ or ‘I hear that’. This kind of mismatch is deemed to be problematic for rapport development.
We are therefore encouraged to reply to the previous sentence in a way that matches the kinaesthetic words being displayed by that person; ‘I feel that you would prefer to experience life differently.” Thus, the therapist starts to speak the same language as the client, they are more similar and rapport ensues and is developed by more of the same.
As Heap does go on to explain, there is a lot that predates NLP that refers to using congruent body language in a similar way to another person to indicate that even if we disagree on something, we are still friends and that matching has other kinds of applications used for a long time.
On my training courses, I think that at least one thing I say throughout the ten months upsets a student in some way, or at least challenges them enough to resist what I am saying in some way. Yet I still maintain rapport. Not because I am matching or mirroring necessarily – though I realise some might say that general beliefs are matched – but rapport is kept in a very general sense and unless the resistance continued and the upsetting moments multiplied to the point where they dominated, rapport remains intact.
I think communicating harmoniously and in a way that you both appreciate and understand one way to ensure you develop rapport and regardless of saying
Rapport is often broken, there is a developing school of therapeutic thought that find provocation to be useful and the rapport they have with clients is a very different one to that insisted upon by those that serially match and mirror.
When Michael Heap evaluates the idea of matching and mirroring, he states:
“If the above assertions on representational systems and their behavioural manifestations are correct, then Bandler and Grinder have made some very remarkable discoveries about the human mind and brain and they would have major implications for human psychology, particularly cognition and neuropsychology. Yet there is no mention of them in learned textbooks or journals devoted to these disciplines. Neither is any of this material taught on psychology courses at pre-degree and degree level. When I speak to academic colleagues who spend their working lives researching and teaching in these fields they show little awareness, if any, of these claims.
Why this almost total neglect of a body of knowledge that, if it has any authenticity, should occupy a pivotal role in the study of human psychology? One obvious solution is to examine the original work undertaken by Bandler and Grinder that led them to their conclusions.
To arrive at these kinds of generalisations about the human mind and behaviour would certainly require the prolonged, systematic and meticulous investigation of human subjects using robust procedures for observing, recording and analysing the phenomena under investigation. There is just no other way of doing this.”
Yet, when they made their assertions, the authors never revealed any of this to their students and to their readers; they merely stated that this is what they had noticed.
There are many applications of NLP that I employ in my therapeutic work that have provided my clients with some fabulous results though I continue to be healthily sceptical about it. The same way that I am about anything I use in therapy when the well-being of paying clients is my main focus, including applications of hypnotherapy that I employ. Increasingly, it is this idea that matching and mirroring, be it language and representational systems or non-verbal language, that I find more difficult to accept.
I think being congruently yourself and communicating harmoniously with the best intention for the person that you are with develops rapport in an effective manner. All hypnotherapists can surely still develop rapport whilst completely and utterly mismatching language predicates and body language, can’t we?
Just some food for thought today; do we need to always mirror the person in front of us to achieve rapport?
Thanks–another well-reasoned and -written post.
I am a hypnotist, and was trained in Ericksonian hypnosis by two wonderful NLP experts, but I am still skeptical about NLP. ,NLP and hypnosis seem to go hand in hand in this field–it’s hard to find a hypnotist who doesn’t dabble in it. I look forward to reading Heap’s paper.
Thank you for your reply Paula.
The main reason so many facets of hypnosis go hand in hand with NLP is because (as you’ll know) NLP was modelled on Erickson’s hypnosis work. However, most things in NLP were modelled from elsewhere and can be found originating in many other disciplines.
The field of hypnotherapy is a very different one to that of Erickson hypnosis and has hugely more to it than Erickson’s work, some of which does not stand up well to researchers scrutiny. However, the language he used may not prove to be any more efficacious for therapeutic results, I do love it and incorporate it in much of my own work.
Great hearing from you, I send you my very best wishes, A.
Can’t believe I didnt see this blog when it is currently one of my favourite debates:-)
I very much lean towards the idea that matching and mirroring is no more effective at building rapport than simply being an open, genuine and well socialised human being. Since becoming a student, I have worked on this several times in several situations. I tend to find that as I am trying to match and mirror it is sometimes detrimental to rapport because I am so busy doing this that I actually fail to pay attention to the meaning that the speaker is communicating with me regardless of whether i hear the words. In this respect, I feel that the speaker might perceive me as being disengaged or disinterested. However, when I let myself go naturally… well I seem to be able to create rapport quite easily. One point that I feel is useful though is to ensure we match the ‘pace’ of the communication. Certainly if someone comes speaking to me at 100mph in an over excited tone, but I am feeling in a rather introverted mood, this is more likely to annoy me than build rapport with me. I think establishing balance is the key.
If it feels unnatural, it will look unnatural.
Thanks Matt, valued input.
I once spoke to a previous student and a man he worked with as a case study. The case study man had some basic NLP training and fed back to me that the trainee hypnotherapist was trying to get rapport by matching and mirroring and he was put off by it. When I spoke to the student afterwards, he stated that he did not believe in matching and mirroring and never employed it purposely. Any mirroring that had occurred would seem to have happened naturally – but a little knowledge of it by the case study client, ended up harming rapport that had been developed very nicely… Oh the irony!
Therapeutic alliance and hypnotherapy
In reply to your statement, ‘do we need to always mirror the person in front of us to achieve rapport?’
The era post the ‘decade of the brain’ is the era of neural application, where NLP terms for “mirroring and matching” now have much more meaning. Anytime you watch someone else doing something (or even starting to do something), the corresponding mirror neuron fire in your brain allowing you to “read” and understand another’s intentions, and so develop a sophisticated “theory of other minds.” (Rizolatti and Craighero, 2004)
Modern neuroscience indicates that the ‘person’ of the therapist is more important than their knowledgebase or their ‘tools of trade’, such as hypnotic language patterns etc. Research shows that the therapeutic alliance and limbic mirror neuron effect are far more crucial. Siegel (1999) suggests that what is important is the attunement of the therapist to the micro moments of the interaction with the client-tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, motion, eye gaze etc. Schore (1994) calls this right brain to right brain connection, the “implicit nonverbal affect-laden communication [that] directly represents the attachment dynamic”. These right brain-to-right brain intersubjective transactions lie at the core of the therapeutic relationship and are what Sander (1992) calls ‘‘moments of meeting’’ between patient and therapist.
Erikson instinctively was ahead of his time in this regard and I believe that this is his legacy that is important, far more than that which is deemed “Eriksonian Hypnotherapy”.
Rizzolatti, G., Craighero, L., 2004. The mirror-neuron system. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 27, 169–192.
Sander, L. (1992). Letter to the Editor. Discussion of Evelyne Schwaber’s “Countertransference: The analyst’s retreat from the patient’s vantage point.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 73, 582– 84.
Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind. New York: Guilford.