How To Engage Clients In Therapy & Social Work

How To Engage Clients In Therapy & Social Work

As a therapist or coach, client engagement is vitally important. But you can’t do the work for your clients, can you?

That’s why it’s essential to keep them maximally motivated and engaged between your weekly or bi-weekly sessions – and this guide will help you do exactly that.

Why Is It Important To Engage Clients In Therapy?

First, let’s define our terms.

Client engagement can be defined as “all the efforts made during therapy, right from the intake sessions, to achieve the desired results.”[1]

In other words, the more engaged your clients are, the more successful their therapy will be.[2]

This matters to your clients, who are paying you for results, and it’s especially important to you as a practitioner because your clients’ success is your success.

How It Works

It takes a lot of work to keep clients engaged, especially as your practice grows and you gain more of them.

But it’s worth it, as we’ve seen; because there is a whole range of advantages to high patient engagement .

According to the research, engaged clients are more likely to[3]:

  • Endorse more treatments
  • Exhibit greater levels of participation in the therapeutic process
  • Remain in treatment for a longer period, and
  • Eventually, to report higher satisfaction with end results compared to unengaged patients.

In the next section, we’ll go over some of the most effective ways to keep your clients engaged in therapy and other helping contexts, such as social work and coaching.

Engaging The Client: A How-To Guide

There are many methods, techniques, and tactics that can be effective in boosting client engagement.

But before you decide what techniques to use, it’s important to make sure you have the basics down.

These skills will lay the foundation for a successful client engagement strategy:

  1. Listening: Active listening is the vital first step to building a good relationship with your clients, and it’s the first step to really understanding them and their needs.
  2. Empathy: Before you can determine what your client needs and whether—and how—you are able to help them, you must be able to empathize with them. Take time to understand their context and connect with them.
  3. Patience: No one likes to be rushed into purchasing decisions. Give your clients space and time to absorb information and decide what is best for themselves.
  4. Trust: It takes time to build trust, but it starts right at the beginning of your engagement with a client. From the start, take care to be the kind of person your clients can trust with their time, their money, and their energy.
  5. Adaptability: Change is the only constant, and this means you’ll need to be ready to adapt to your client’s changing needs and goals. Each customer is unique, and each customer interaction is unique; treating each interaction with an open mind and a willingness to adapt will build your clients’ trust and respect for you.

Once you have these five skills in place, you can start choosing your techniques and building your overall engagement strategy.

We’ll cover this in a little more depth later on, but here’s a sneak peek at the basic pillars of a successful strategy:

  1. Know your client and context
  2. Personalize
  3. Follow up
  4. Automate

4+ Ways To Motivate Clients in Social Work

Listening, empathy, and the other abovementioned soft skills are incredibly valuable for social workers, as they allow professionals to develop strong relationships with their clients.

Developing strong relationships is the first of several approaches that experts have identified to help social workers enhance engagement. Once you’ve got the foundations of a strong relationship, you’ve got the ball rolling.

To keep it rolling, here are a few more techniques for motivating clients in social work:[4][5]

  1. Recognition – establishing a strong relationship with the client (e.g., identifying with their situation, building a partnership)
  2. Building trust – adopting a client-centered approach (e.g., responding to a client’s cues, acknowledging their expertise, apologizing when things go wrong.
  3. Collaborating with clients – working with a client’s self-selected goals, problem-solving together, and finding out what they feel would be helpful in their particular situation
  4. Communicating clearly – clarifying the purpose of any social work interventions used, what the client has control over and what they do not, communicating next steps, and outlining likely consequences.

Using Social Work Apps To Build Engagement

With a few techniques under your belt, encouraging commitment and progress becomes a matter of implementation.

If you work at least partly online as a social worker, digital tools are a useful way to automate the day-to-day work of building and maintaining engagement.

Once you have assessed a particular case and collaborated on an action plan, using a good social work app like Quenza is one of the best ways to mobilize your plan.

Social work software works by automating the most important tasks that would otherwise take up a lot of your time:

  • Monitoring clients’ progress towards their goals  – so you can make progress visible and create accountability
  • Maintaining continuous client engagement  – through automated follow-ups and reminders
  • Conducting regular check-ins with clients – ideally between meetings, for ongoing communication and support, and
  • Evaluating client performance for insights – social workers need to look at their clients’ progress for patterns and insights that will reveal whether their client is heading in the right direction. Technology can be very useful here to create reports and analytics that highlight trends and patterns.

Click here for our review of the best social work apps in 2022.

How To Engage Patients in Mental Health Treatment

So how can you pull all your knowledge together and craft an engagement strategy that will generate buy-in, readiness, and results?

Following the four very general steps we introduced earlier will ensure you cover the most important aspects of a client engagement plan.

Step 1: Know Your Client and Context

Before choosing your techniques and moving forward, take some time to understand the context.

  • What does your typical client need from you?
  • What are the usual challenges and barriers they face?
  • What has been effective in helping them meet their goals so far?
  • Is your professional style conducive to any specific types of tactics or techniques?

If you take the time to understand the context, it will be relatively straightforward to choose and implement the client engagement techniques that are best for your practice.

This is where psychological assessment and evaluation tools can come in very useful, by helping you understand your clients’ particular circumstances. A few examples include:

Preview of Quenza Wheel of Needs Expansion Desktop View
This customizable Wheel of Needs Expansion can be used to explore your clients’ needs so that you can create a personalized engagement strategy for your work together.
  • The Wheel of Needs Assessment – as shown above, this kind of assessment explores your client’s needs so you can work together towards meeting the needs that are unmet.
  • The Effectiveness of Session Evaluation – delivered after each session, this kind of tool will give you insight into how your clients feel about your impact as a therapist
  • A Pre-Coaching Questionnaire – with this kind of assessment, you can find out more about your client’s goals, current life, and needs.

Step 2: Personalize

Clear insights into your client and their context allow you to personalize your approach and programs, so you can grab their attention, engage them, and make them take action.

The range of ways you can do this is broad, but some of the best ways to maximize the engagement factor of your therapeutic exercises, homework, and resources are as follows:

  1. Design personalized tools that cater to their needs, wants, and capabilities, increasing the likelihood that they will engage with and commit to the work
  2. Customize their treatment plan or coaching program to their lifestyle. Find out when they’re more likely to engage with your resources and share them during those windows

Step 3: Follow up

Motivating your clients between sessions is probably the most important ongoing process when it comes to maintaining engagement.

While this is as simple as nudging, reminding, and providing your clients with feedback, it’s where most practitioners drop the ball. It takes time, effort, and strong organizational skills to follow up with a growing client list, which is why Step 4 – Automate – is essential.

Step 4: Automate

Building and maintaining engagement is an ongoing process, and involves a lot of “behind the scenes” work, especially if you do it manually.

If you’re planning to grow your client list, follow-up automation can be game-changing. Using a client engagement platform like Quenza, you’ll be able to automatically share your resources at the right time. Set up your treatment plan once, and sending personalized feedback, nudges, and reminders takes only a few minutes of personalization. Later in this guide, we’ll explain how to engage patients in mental health treatment virtually.

5 Tips For Working With Difficult Or Resistant Clients

No matter how great your treatment plan is or how effective a helping professional you are, you will still occasionally run into clients who are difficult to work with.

There are many reasons a client may be challenging or resistant to the program:

  • They may be struggling to find the time or energy to devote to the work
  • They might be facing roadblocks that they have not shared with you, or
  • They may be feeling uncertain about the effectiveness of the program, among (many) other explanations.

If you want these clients to have a chance at success, it is vital to figure out what these challenges are and how you can help. This is where the core skills of active listening, empathy, patience, trust, and adaptability will be vital once again:

  • Approach your client non-judgementally
  • Ask what is making engagement difficult for them and how you can help.
  • Listen attentively, empathize with their challenges, and show them you care.
  • Don’t be afraid to adapt your methods to meet their needs, where possible.

Above all, remember the number one rule of dealing with difficult clients: don’t take it personally!

Approach your client non-judgementally and ask what is making engagement difficult for them and how you can help. Listen attentively, empathize with their challenges, and show them you care.

Whatever your difficult client is dealing with, their behavior is more about them than it is about you.

Do your best to work with a difficult client, but be willing to let them go if you just can’t work together effectively.

Final Thoughts

As with most aspects of coaching practice, the “right answer” or right set of tools for client engagement will depend on your style and your clients’ needs.

However, this piece provides a great foundation for developing an effective client engagement strategy for your practice. Use the tips, ideas, and strategies provided to develop the approach that will work best for you and your clients.

Remember, although there are many motivational tools and tactics for enhancing client engagement, the best way to keep clients engaged is to keep delivering the same high-quality service they have come to expect.

Don’t forget to start your Quenza trial for $1 access to everything you need!


  1. ^ Holdsworth, E., Bowen, E., Brown, S., & Howat, D. (2014). Client engagement in psychotherapeutic treatment and associations with client characteristics, therapist characteristics, and treatment factors. Clinical Psychology Review, 34(5), 428-450.
  2. ^ Yoskowitz, N. A. (2018). Client Engagement in Psychotherapy: The Roles of Client and Beginning Therapist Attachment Styles. Doctoral dissertation, Columbia University.
  3. ^ Thompson, S. J., Bender, K., Lantry, J., & Flynn, P. M. (2007). Treatment Engagement: Building Therapeutic Alliance in Home-Based Treatment with Adolescents and their Families. Contemporary Family Therapy, 29(1-2), 39.
  4. ^ Jacobsen, C. A. (2013). Social Workers Reflect on Engagement with Involuntary Clients. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website:
  5. ^ De Jong, P., & Berg, I. K. (2001). Co-constructing cooperation with mandated clients. Social Work, 46(4), 361-374.

About the author

Catherine specializes in Organizational and Positive Psychology, helping entrepreneurs, clinical psychologists and OD specialists grow their businesses by simplifying their digital journeys.


  1. A Alberto

    Hi good morning, hope you are doing well.

    Hey, is it possible to adapt Quenza’s platform for education in Cardiovascular disease management and prevention? I’d like to implement it in our practice as a way to boost our preventives programs with education. Thank you!!

    1. CM Catherine Moore

      Hi Alberto,
      There is a huge range of educational interventions that you can create using Quenza’s Activity builder, or by sharing your own PDFs and resources through Quenza Files.
      I would highly recommend posting your question in Quenza’s Community forum, tell us the details of what you’d like to achieve. Our team (and your peers) are sure to have an answer!

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