Understanding Your Client’s Body Language


Listening to your clients is crucial in therapy. It can be challenging to help people when they aren’t being heard. However, it’s also imperative to pay careful attention to your client’s body language. We constantly communicate things to others through our body language without even noticing it. While observing your client’s body language can be more difficult through telehealth, it’s still possible. Being mindful of this nonverbal communication tells you things your client may not.

What Is Nonverbal Communication?

Nonverbal communication is exactly what it sounds like—sending and receiving messages without using words. It’s commonly used in conjunction with verbal communication, but it can sometimes be used all on its own. You may already be aware of common styles of nonverbal communication and how they can be utilized to understand people better. However, a great way to observe them more effectively in your clients is to become even more familiarized with nonverbal communication.

There are many different forms of nonverbal communication people use, including:

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are responsible for much of our nonverbal communication. Smiling, frowning, or even blank expressions are all indicators of how we’re feeling. Facial expressions allow people to convey what they’re feeling, whether it be happiness, anger, or sadness, without having to say a single word. 

Gestures

Gestures are also used on a daily basis. Prime examples include waving, eye-rolling, or pointing. Gestures such as these help us convey annoyance, offer direction, or offer a friendly introduction. 

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics is also an extremely influential form of nonverbal communication. Paralinguistics refers to tone or pitch. For example, when people ask a question, their pitch tends to become higher at the end of asking the question. The tone, in particular, is helpful in deriving someone’s true feelings. Their words may indicate they are okay, but their tone may be saying something else.

Nonverbal Communication in Therapy

According to Psychiatry (Edgmont), a research journal published by Matrix Medical Communications, approximately “60 to 65% of interpersonal communication is conveyed via nonverbal behaviors.” Unfortunately, more emphasis is put on verbal communication than nonverbal communication in therapy. The importance of nonverbal communication is that it’s unconscious. Therefore, your client’s nonverbal communication may be more indicative of how they’re truly feeling.

Recognizing Nonverbal Communication

Paying attention to nonverbal communication will be exceptionally useful when you have clients who are more withdrawn and less likely to open up easily. Recognizing the subtlest change in posture, eye contact, or facial expression should be noticed. 

If clients are slouching and drawing back, they may feel unsettled or anxious, indicated by their discomfort. A client with shaking hands may be suffering from extreme anxiety. Facial expressions and eye contact can also be very telling. If your client is unable to make or maintain eye contact, there may be something bothering them that they’re afraid to share. While not all nonverbal communication can be accurately interpreted, it can help you deduce more about your client.

Evaluating Risk of Harm

Another time nonverbal communication is helpful is when you’re assessing risks with your client. For example, clients may not tell the truth when asked if they’re thinking of harming themselves or others. People suffering from self-harm or harmful coping habits become so accustomed to hiding their struggles that they may not want to be truthful. They may also feel shame or anxiety about the thought of someone knowing they are self-harming or suffering from suicidal ideations.

Evaluating these risks may not necessarily require you to observe nonverbal behavior specifically. You may just have to observe your client. For example, you may have a new client claiming they have no history of self-injury. However, you may observe scars on their forearms or other indicators of self-harm and previous suicide attempts. 

Specific nonverbal cues or body language can also help you infer if your client is in a state of heightened agitation or is using substances. From these observations, you can strategize how to get them to open up, confirm your suspicions, and figure out the best way to help them.

Observing Nonverbal Communication in an Online Space

Observing nonverbal cues can be difficult through telehealth. While it can be a challenge, it’s not impossible. Some clients may be camera shy initially but ensuring that they are comfortable going on video will allow you to still pick up their verbal cues. You’ll be able to see your client’s eye contact, slightly observe their posture, and of course, be able to notice their tone. These nonverbal cues alone can tell you things they aren’t saying.

Trying to find your footing in an online space may still have its challenges. There is a time and a place for in-person interaction, but millions of clients love telehealth. SokyaHealth is proud to provide quality treatment to people through the online space. If you’re struggling to successfully interpret nonverbal communication in an online space with your clients, we encourage you to reach out to us today. 

Nonverbal communication helps you learn more about your client and their mental health and is exceptionally useful for improving treatment outcomes. Observing their behavior, tone, and body language will tell you things they may not be saying themselves. By refining your observation skills, you can infer if a client is feeling anxious, angry, or at risk of harming themselves or others. However, observing these nonverbal cues can be more difficult in the online space without being able to see your client fully. As long as clients are on video, you’ll still be able to observe their eye contact, posture, and tone of voice. You can then strategize how to help them best and strengthen your rapport further. If you are struggling to observe your client’s nonverbal communication through telehealth, we encourage you to use SokyaHealth as a resource. Call us at (877) 840-6956 today.

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