Forging through the ASWB exam content outline, we get to: The principles and techniques for building and maintaining a helping relationship. This is the basics. Building rapport, keeping rapport. How do you do it? How might questions on the topic look on the ASWB exam? Let's take a look.


Some essentials for building a helpful relationship. Your list may vary (but probably not by all that much!). 

  • Empathy:

    • Demonstrating empathy fosters trust and rapport. 
  • Respect:

    • Treating clients with dignity and honoring their autonomy.
    • Recognizing and valuing their perspectives and experiences.
  • Genuineness:

    • Being authentic and transparent in interactions.
    • Avoiding pretense and fostering a sense of realness.
  • Non-judgmental Attitude:

    • Accepting clients without passing judgment.
    • Creating a safe space for open and honest communication.
  • Active Listening:

    • Paying full attention to verbal and non-verbal cues.
    • Reflecting back what the client is saying to demonstrate understanding.
  • Empowerment:

    • Collaborating with clients to enhance their strengths and abilities.
    • Encouraging self-determination and autonomy.
  • Cultural Competence:

    • Understanding and respecting the cultural background of the client.
    • Recognizing how cultural factors may influence the client's experience.
  • Confidentiality:

    • Maintaining the privacy of client information.
    • Clearly explaining the limits of confidentiality.

Simple principles...but easier listed than executed. 


It takes practice and missteps to gain confidence and competence in each of these. Here are techniques for each principle.

  • Empathy
    • Reflective Listening:

      • Repeat back what the client is saying in your own words.
      • Acknowledge and validate the client's emotions and experiences.
    • Use of Non-Verbal Cues:

      • Maintain eye contact to convey attentiveness.
      • Use appropriate facial expressions and body language to express empathy.

  • Respect
    • Active Engagement:

      • Demonstrate genuine interest in the client's life and experiences.
      • Avoid interrupting and give the client ample time to express themselves.
    • Affirmation:

      • Acknowledge the client's strengths and positive qualities.
      • Validate their right to make decisions about their own lives.

  •  Genuineness:
    • Authenticity:

      • Share appropriate aspects of yourself to create a more genuine connection.
      • Be honest about your feelings, as appropriate to the context.
    • Open Communication:

      • Encourage the client to share their thoughts and feelings openly.
      • Be transparent about the purpose and goals of your interactions.

  • Non-judgmental Attitude:
    • Reflective Language:

      • Use neutral and non-judgmental language when discussing sensitive topics.
      • Avoid making assumptions or expressing personal biases.
    • Validation:

      • Acknowledge the client's experiences without imposing personal judgments.
      • Create an atmosphere where the client feels accepted for who they are.

  • Active Listening
    • Paraphrasing:

      • Repeat back the main points the client has expressed in your own words.
      • Summarize key information to ensure understanding.
    • Clarifying:

      • Ask open-ended questions to seek clarification and show interest.
      • Use reflective statements to confirm your understanding.

  • Empowerment
    • Collaborative Goal Setting:

      • Work with the client to set achievable goals.
      • Encourage the client to identify their own strengths and resources.
    • Strengths-Based Approach:

      • Focus on the client's capabilities and assets.
      • Help the client recognize and build upon their existing strengths.

  • Cultural Competence
    • Cultural Humility:

      • Acknowledge your own cultural biases and limitations.
      • Continuously educate yourself about diverse cultural backgrounds.
    • Ask Questions:

      • Inquire about the client's cultural preferences and practices.
      • Show a genuine interest in learning about their unique cultural perspective.

  • Confidentiality
    • Clearly Explaining Limits:

      • Clearly articulate the boundaries of confidentiality.
      • Discuss situations where confidentiality may need to be breached (e.g., risk of harm).
    • Ensuring Privacy:

      • Choose a private and secure setting for discussions.
      • Use secure communication methods to protect client information.

On the Exam

Questions touching on this topic could be written lots of different ways. Here are some possibilities:

  • In a counseling session, a client expresses frustration about their inability to find stable employment. What is the most empathetic response from the social worker?
  • A client reveals engaging in behaviors that go against the social worker's personal values. What is the most non-judgmental response from the social worker?
  • A client discusses a recent family conflict during a counseling session. What is an example of active listening by the social worker?

Get questions like these--on this topic and many, many others--on SWTP's full-length practice tests. Ready to get started?

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January 31, 2024
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