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?