When it comes to working with people and their problems as a therapist or in any other way, getting the pace right is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, but do it we must. That is because if we are going too slowly we may miss opportunities to move forward – for example, ‘missing the boat’ when someone is in crisis and motivated to make important changes. This is not to say that we should rush into things in an unthinking way, but not responding quickly enough will often mean that we miss out on important opportunities to make a positive difference. 

A child who had taken a long time to pluck up the courage to be ready to disclose abuse may have had a change of heart if the person they have chosen to trust to hear what they have to say if there is a delay in responding. This is just one example of many that will apply in a variety of settings and circumstances.

On the other hand, if we move too swiftly, we may create (or exacerbate) insecurity and anxiety and thereby hamper progress in terms of whatever need we are trying to meet or problem we are trying to solve. Giving people the impression that we are rushing or acting hastily will undermine their confidence in us, reduce trust and therefore create unhelpful barriers. We have to be careful not to give the impression that we are too busy or pressurised to take their needs seriously. 

We also have to think about our own self-care needs

Going faster than we need to will diminish our sense of control, and it has long been established that having little or no sense of control is a key factor in the development of stress.

So, how do we judge what is the best pace? There is no hard and fast rule, but mainly it comes from looking closely at the situation, gauging reactions to our input and picking up the clues about how comfortable or otherwise the person(s) involved appear to be. Difficult though this may be, it gets easier with experience, provided that we stay tuned in to the need to consider pace as an important feature of our efforts to help. 

It is an example of the important role of reflective practice as a fundamental basis of good practice. Knowing when to stop and think and when to press on and get the job done is a key part of the reflective practice skills base. 

Dr Neil Thompson is a former university professor who now works as an independent writer, educator and adviser. He holds a higher doctorate (DLitt) in Well-being and has published widely on the subject. His recent books include The Problem Solver’s Practice Manual and (with Bernard Moss) The Values-based Practice Manual. He is also the author (with Sue Thompson) of The Critically Reflective Practitioner. His website is at www.NeilThompson.info