Immediacy in Counseling (A 3 point guide)

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The current blogspot will be based on the question “what is immediacy in counseling?”. We will learn the importance of immediacy in counseling and how immediacy helps in a counseling process. We will discuss immediacy with various examples.

What is immediacy in counseling?

Immediacy in counseling is defined as the key skill in counseling that focuses attention on the here and now relationship between the counselor and the client in timing that proves to be helpful to explore the client’s feeling and thoughts and helps the counselor to challenge the defensiveness or resistance of the client and increase awareness about the various personality processes that operate between the client and the therapist (Feltham & Dryden, 1993).

Hence immediacy in counseling does not simply mean to say whatever comes to the mind of the counselor rather it requires the counselor to tactfully use the counseling skills to utilize the moment in the counseling session to explore the resistance of the client or break the client’s defensiveness. Immediacy happens as a structured disclosure of the counselor’s current experience with the client in the counseling session.

Various researchers have also described immediacy as a valid and efficient tool to be effectively used by the counselor for exploring the dark areas of the client’s case during the course of counseling. 

Hill (2014) referred to immediacy as a structured and rapid process in therapy that enables the therapist and the client to discuss in detail the therapeutic relationship. Being in the here and now, the therapist and the client explore the deep processes that play a role in conflict resolution and breaking the client’s resistance.

Similarly Kuttman and Hilsenorth (2012) refer to immediacy not only as any discussion that happens between the therapist and the client during the therapy session but also as the processing of events that occurs during the therapy sessions.

Immediacy is basically the productive discussion between the therapist and the client that takes them forward towards their therapy goal being in the here and now.

Hill (2014) further explains the various contents of the immediacy in counseling. He stated that immediacy is :

  • Therapist talking about the therapeutic relationship with the client being in the here and now while exploring the immediate feelings, emotions and thought content of the client. For example “how does talking about your childhood experience of neglect  with me make you feel right now?”
  • The therapist expresses immediate feelings related to the client’s information through immediacy. For example the therapist might say “i feel irritated when you are often late for your therapy sessions”.
  • The therapist tends to draw parallel inferences with other relationships of the client through immediacy. For example the therapist can say “you often share that you felt not being cared for or being heard. I wonder if the therapy sessions make you feel the same ?”.
  • The therapist uses the immediacy technique to change the covert behavior into overt behavior. For example the therapist can ask the client “you appear very quiet today. I wonder how being in the therapy session has affected you today?”.
  • The therapist uses immediacy technique to identify and resolve the impasse situation during the course of counseling and therapy and thus acknowledges the breach in the therapeutic relationship. For example the therapist might tell the client “we better discuss the scenario on another day when you are more in a mood to share your true feelings related to the event and be less defensive about your negative thoughts”.
  • The therapist tries to repair and maintain the therapeutic alliance with the client through immediacy.For example the therapist might say “ i apologize if my question offended you in any way”.

According to Hill (2014) the therapist may use immediacy in the counseling or therapy sessions with their clients based on the following intentions:

  • Exploring the client’s unstated emotions and feelings
  • To encourage clients surface their suppressed emotions and thoughts
  • Trying to enhance, maintain or repair the therapy relationship with the client
  • Modeling the effective ways to communicate with others in a state of conflicts.

Overall, immediacy in counseling is an experiential process. The therapist talks to the client while being in the moment to gain deeper insight to certain mechanisms relevant to the client’s area of concern. For example a therapist might ask the client “I have observed that whenever we talk about your childhood you lower your gaze and lift your feet off the floor”.

What are the guidelines for the therapists/counselors for using immediacy ?

Following are the guidelines for the therapists / counselors for using immediacy :

  • Be direct and honest about your internal response about an event
  • Choose your words carefully so that the client does not feel threatened or attacked
  • Be sensitive towards the client’s feeling and use active listening skills to attend well the client
  • Carefully place the immediacy during the session and be aware of its impact
  • Know why you are using the immediacy. Be clear about the purpose behind using immediacy
  • Be prepared for crisis intervention in case the immediacy backflows and has a negative impact.

What are the theoretical links to immediacy as a counseling intervention?

Immediacy can be linked to following theories of psychotherapy as an advanced counseling skill:

  • Person centered perspective by being aware of the self and the client and focusing on the here and now.
  • Psychodynamic perspective by interpreting the underlying mechanisms and processes that help the client maintain a behavior or sustain a thought or a feeling associated with a life event.
  • Transactional analysis perspective by using the transactional model with the client to help understand his relation with the therapist and the other external relations in life.
  • Cognitive Behavioral perspective by using cognitive constructs and cognitive patterns to understand the relation between thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

What are the advantages of using immediacy in counseling?

The advantages of using immediacy in counseling are as follows

  • Immediacy helps a client to understand their emotions and thoughts related to a subject in the counseling session. For example a client might share being respectful towards the father figure whereas their body language suggests terror and fear as they cower and slouch in their chair while discussing their relationship with the father figure.
  • The therapist uses immediacy to understand the incongruence between the client’s verbal responses and nion-verbal body gestures. For example a client might state that they are not feeling any anxiety and are managing stress well but they share it with a pressurized speech and a fairly loud voice. 
  • Immediacy also helps therapists to understand the discrepancy between mood and affect of the client. A client might come into the session saying that they are ok but they put their head down on the table.
  • Immediacy can be used in family therapy, focused group sessions and couple counseling to encourage the clients being a keen observer of what is being communicated to them by other members in the session. For example if a mother is talking in a very gentle tone to her son during the therapy session but the son folds arms and clenches his fists while listening to everything the mother says. The therapist draws the attention of the mother towards son’s response to her words and behavior.
  • Immediacy helps the therapist to point out a certain area that needs to be changed in order to reach the desired goal of therapy. For example the therapist makes a teenage girl realize that she needs to get over her past relationship but whenever the therapist starts discussing the relationship in particular the teenage girl tends to change topic and take a shift. This is the point that enables the therapist to overcome the barriers to the desired outcome from the counseling session therapy. 
  • Immediacy helps to understand the dynamics of the therapeutic relationships between the client and the therapist. For example the therapist might reveal to the client that everytime we talk in the session about the way you got in a toxic relationship you tend to push away your feelings and try to portray that you are ok. I would like you to surface your underlying feelings and express your emotions. I am here to listen to you.
  • Immediacy helps the therapist to facilitate the client to surface the suppressed emotions and thoughts and address them while experiencing them by being in the moment.
  • Immediacy tends to better connect the mind and the soul by helping them connect to the repressed emotional behaviors and experiences. For example often the childhood experiences of neglect and trauma are pushed into the unconscious. The therapist facilitates the client through the advanced counseling skill of immediacy to connect to the unconscious experiences.
  • When immediacy is used righteously, it is easily beneficial for the client and the therapist in terms that they are better able to move towards the direction of desired outcome and the client feels being heard and understood by someone without being evaluated or judged. 
  • Immediacy also improves the focus of the client and the therapist on the counseling session.

Various researches have also highlighted the importance and effectiveness of immediacy in counseling and therapy sessions. Kasper et al (2008) stated that the strength of the relationship between the client and the therapist is the strongest before and after the immediacy, however, during the immediacy the client and therapist relationship is at great risk as a small mistake on part of the counselor or the therapist can tarnish the relationship and trust between the client and the therapist.

They further stated that immediacy is an advanced counseling skill that is focused on the parallels between the client’s external relationships and the relation with the therapist. Further, through immediacy, the counselor encourages the expression of immediate thoughts and feelings. 

The most positive outcomes of immediacy as stated by Kasper et al (2008) are :

  • Therapist’s efficient use of immediacy helps the client to strengthen their trust in the therapist.
  • The use of immediacy builds a connection between the therapist and the client.
  • The use of immediacy at the right moment by the therapist helps to overcome the client’s defensiveness and resistance.

The importance and the significance of the immediacy as an advanced counseling technique has been advocated by many researchers. Hill et al (2003) concluded through their qualitative study that immediacy is an effective therapeutic intervention to resolve the client’s anger and aggressive feelings that are targeted towards the therapist. 

They stated that immediacy is related to resolution of anger and aggressive feelings of the client towards the therapist. The therapist helps the client through the resolution by enabling them to register and identify their aggression, facilitate the client to explore the underlying thought, feelings and beliefs that give rise to anger towards the therapist and provide a possible explanation for their aggressive behavior towards the therapist. 

What are the risks associated with the immediacy in counseling?

As for the benefits of the immediacy, there are various risks associated with using immediacy in counseling. Some of the risks associated to immediacy are :

  • If the immediacy is used in counseling without establishing a therapeutic alliance, it often develops resistance in the client.
  • The therapeutic relationship of the client and the therapist often gets ruptured if immediacy is used in the initial sessions by the therapist. 
  • If immediacy is used by a therapist at the right moment in the counseling session, it backfires the aim of the immediacy and the client feels being judged and evaluated.
  • Immediacy is an advanced counseling skill that needs to be used by a specially trained therapist and needs to be used in the later sessions of counseling. 
  • Immediacy if used in the initial sessions of counseling often makes the client defensive to opening in front of the therapist.

Researchers have also stated that often the immediacy leaves the client with negative experiences. Rhodes, Hill, Thompson and Elliot (1994) concluded through an empirical study that immediacy often leaves the client feeling negative about the therapist and the therapy sessions. 

However Kasper et al (2008) also stated the negative side of  using immediacy in counseling. He stated that immediacy might lead to feeling pressure and stress on the part of the client.

Conclusion

In the present blogspot we focus on the description of immediacy as an advanced counseling intervention. We learned the advantages of immediacy, the various aspects of using immediacy in counseling sessions and the risks of using immediacy in counseling sessions.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Immediacy in counseling

How is immediacy used in counseling?

Immediacy is used in the counseling by providing active feedback to the client with a focus on their behavior, feelings and thoughts in the counseling session. 

What is an example of using immediacy in counseling?

Immediacy in counseling can be explained when a child talks about his lost father with a heavy heart and teary eye yet he gives an impression that he has not been affected at all by the death of his father. The counselor draws an inference on the basis of non verbal symptoms and explains to the client that it is alright to feel low and sad upon the death of your father and facilitates him to surface the sadness that he has been suppressing for long.

What is the benefit of using immediacy in counseling?

The benefits of immediacy in counseling session are :

Strengthens the relationship between the client and the therapist
Allows therapist to work with the defensiveness of the client
Enables the therapist to overcome the client’s resistance in therapy

Citations

https://counsellingtutor.com/basic-counselling-skills/immediacy/

https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1449&context=psych_fac

https://optimistminds.com/immediacy-in-counselling/

https://www.ipl.org/essay/Importance-Of-Immediacy-In-Counselling-P3KSTQ74SCPR

Kuutmann, K., & Hilsenroth, M. J. (2012). Exploring in-session focus on the patient-therapist relationship: Patient characteristics, process and outcome. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 19, 187–202. 10.1002/cpp.743

Kasper, Laura & Hill, Clara & Kivlighan, Dennis. (2008). Therapist immediacy in brief psychotherapy: Case study I. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.). 45. 281-97. 10.1037/a0013305. 

Hill, C. E. (2014). Helping skills: Facilitating exploration, insight, and action (4th ed). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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