Written by: Peter Hill – Mental Health Specialist – The Pro Forum Community of Practice

How do you go about building a relationship with someone who has a mental health illness? That is one of the many challenges that Mental Health Case Managers face on a regular basis, and the answer to that question is there is no set way. There are books and videos that suggests the best way to go about this, however in my experience, it is totally up the case worker to find the best way that suits the client. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another.

How I build relationships is to be totally honest in our first meeting with them by explaining what I can do for them and offer support and advocacy and listen to them.  I find that in a lot of situations, these people are not actually being heard and it frustrates them to the point of aggression.  These clients are very sensitive to people judging them, so it is important to be non-judgemental with what you say and how you say it.  I find that by being upfront in our first meeting, it sets the tone for building a lasting relationship with them.  I had one client that came into my office after a long walk on a hot day and yelled profanity at me asking what I can do for him that no-one else has done for him in the past five years.  My response to him was that I can offer him a cold drink, I can listen to him, and even give him a lift home if that’s what he wanted.  To his surprise, he settled down and spoke to me about wanting to go to TAFE to study computers.  So, I made arrangements for him to achieve his educational goals and within a few weeks after that conversation, he took the initiative to find himself a job for the first time in five years all because I listened to him.

Another client once told me off and said it was ‘none of my business’ when I meet with her for the first time to discuss her goals, and my response to her was “Fine, I don’t blame you for not trusting me.  Why would you trust me on our first meeting?”  Trust is something that needs to be earned for clients where people have previously let them down, and that could’ve happened at a very young age with a lack of trust that continues into adulthood.

Although I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, I have managed to build good working relationship with my clients over the years.  My experience went beyond listening and building trust with them, I provided suggestions and not advice, I did not go about changing anyone’s views about life and what they believe in, and I would never force anything upon anyone.  The only one who can change a person is themselves, and my job was to be there and be supportive in anyway that I can to guide them through their journey.


The information provided herein is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or mental health concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in this content.
If this article has raised any issues for you please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.


NOTE: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter, and specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The content must not be relied upon as legal, technical, financial or other professional advice.