Seeing a therapist requires a certain threshold of vulnerability. Although going to The Writing Center does not necessarily require the highest amount of vulnerability, this characteristic is still essential for beneficial relationships between writers and tutors. Whenever I seek writing help, I feel as if I’m exposing a part of myself I might not have necessarily been comfortable with if there hadn’t been some sort of trust and comfort built in the beginning of the appointment. That’s why, for my final project for WRD 395—the class that all undergraduate UCWbL tutors take during their first quarter after being hired—I decided to focus on the similarities between how therapists and peer writing tutors build and cultivate rapport (the UCWbL’s first core practice).
What Is Rapport, Anyways?
UCWbLers use this word often. You could say it’s become an example of UCWbL “jargon.” Rapport, according to Google, is defined as the following:
“a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”
While preparing for this project, I took a lot of time ruminating on what this definition means—to myself, to a more general population of writers, and to The Writing Center. I found its focus on the relationship most important. Furthermore, I did some research and found this aligns with The Writing Center’s philosophy. According to the UCWbL Handbook, building and cultivating rapport “engages and encourages writers, establishes empathy, creates a safe space for conversation, facilitates risk-taking, and opens a dialogue about writing.” With this in mind, I hit the books in an effort to understand how this UCWbL practice parallels with those in clinical psychology.
So, What Did I Find?
In my research, I found four relevant examples of building and cultivating rapport used in therapy. Although not explicitly giving methods as to how this specific practice works in this field, all of the sources focus primarily on the relationship and the importance of empathy—two points which I focused on in my presentation. Psychologist Michael Kahn published a book (some of which is available online) titled Between Therapist and Client: The New Relationship which discussed the importance of humanistic psychology and how this impacted the client-therapist relationship. He notes that empathy and unconditional positive regard, theories which were spearheaded by famous psychologist Carl Rogers, changed the relationship drastically, which Casemore primarily discusses in his book titled Person-Centered Counseling in a nutshell. This newfound therapeutic relationship was discussed in an article titled “Empathy and Quality of Care” by psychologists Mercer and Reynolds. They discuss the importance that empathy carries—backing up the fact that the more empathetic a relationship, the more honest and comfortable the appointment becomes. Similarly, psychologist Phillip Burnard released a book titled Practical Counseling and Helping in which he discussed the results of a study he conducted. Burnard took in-takes from 200 students, inquiring about the qualities they expect to find in therapists. These students could write as many qualities as they wanted, and the following qualities showed up most often in their responses:
- Empathetic (57%)
- Understanding (35%)
- Good Listener (73%)
What Does This Mean & What Can We Do?
Well, fellow writers, this shows us we should make sure our writers feel safe, comfortable, and willing to open up when it comes to writing. I found this research and project to be a call to all tutors to build and cultivate our relationships with writers, which we know is integral to a good appointment. Let’s listen to what they have to say, be able to relate to what they’re saying, show them we understand, and make sure they know we’re striving to empathize with their experiences. Vulnerability takes practice. The first step is keeping your ears and arms open.
We’ve got this.