While therapeutic alliance formation has been widely researched over many sessions of psychotherapy, the question of alliance formation in short-term counselling has been less explored. Given the increasing evidence in the literature for the positive impact of alliances on therapy outcomes, providing counsellors - who may work with clients for a limited number of sessions - with enhanced insight into alliance formation will be of value. This qualitative study investigated the experiences of eight counsellors forming alliances with clients over short periods. Semi-structured interviews were analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. Five major themes emerged, that while congruent with the alliance literature, add some details relevant to day-to-day practice. These themes included: the importance of strong alliances; the need for psychologically comfortable environments; the timing of alliance formation; and the impact of counsellor personal qualities - such as being real - in strengthening and maintaining alliances. In addition, an unexpected sixth theme revealed that body language was highly valued as an indicator of strong or weak alliances. Implications for increasing the use of body language to enhance counselling practice and education are discussed.


Body language, Counselling, Phenomenology, Therapeutic alliance, Rapport.

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