Nurturing New Relationships Through Art

Nurturing New Relationships Through Art |

When you meet a new client, you have two main tasks:

    1. Gather information.
    2. Establish rapport.

You probably already have a protocol or procedure to follow for the first step. These are the assessments or admission paperwork that you already complete, and that allows you to gather basic information about your client and the needs that bring them to you.

Sometimes your initial assessments might not be enough to give you the information you need for creative caregiving. That’s why you will continue gathering information and documenting what you learn about your client.

The second step – building rapport – is also very important, but it is harder to put into a protocol. Fortunately, we caregivers tend to have a natural feel for building rapport by the way we interact and the words we use with clients and families. That’s what gets us through that initial paperwork, right?

Entering into a new kind of caregiving structure can be intimidating for a senior, though, whether it’s a new living situation, or new people coming to the house. Our job is to meet our clients on a person-to-person level, to help them know that we care and that we want to help. Sometimes this is easy, and we just “click.” Sometimes it’s a bit more challenging.

When building rapport is challenging, creative caregiving is especially useful.

By putting attention on something else – music or art, especially – we take the pressure off the current conversation and focus instead on something that isn’t necessarily health- or caregiving-related.

In this post, I’ll share some ideas for building relationships through art and visual media. Next week, we’ll focus on music.

Try these ideas:

Ask your client about the art on their wall. Who picked it out? What do they like about it? When did they get it? Where did it hang before?

Hint: Share your real opinions about the art, but in a kind way.

Ask about your senior’s family photos. Who is in the photos? Are they recent? Where do the family live now?

Hint: This is a good way to learn about your client’s family structure and to assess how well they remember this information.

Notice your senior’s calendar and comment on the photos. Many people have a calendar even if they don’t have other art.

Hint: This time of year, you may even be able to get a sharply-discounted 2013 calendar that they would enjoy. What a perfect way to establish and maintain rapport throughout the year!

Ask whether your senior is “an artist.” Do they like painting or sculpture? Do they appreciate fine art or visit the local art museum? Do they make crafts (e.g. crochet, woodwork)?

Hint: Many people will say “no” to that first question who really would enjoy making artwork or craft projects. This question helps you to know how to encourage their participation.

Bring photos to use as conversation starters once you get an idea of what interests your senior. For example, a western movie lover might enjoy seeing this photo and talking about John Wayne.

Hint: If you have access to an iPad, this is a great way to store a lot of high-quality images without using a lot of color printing.

Do you have any suggestions to add? Please leave your ideas in the comments section, and we’ll all learn more from each other.


  1. Ann Becker-Schutte on January 4, 2013 at 5:13 pm


    Great suggestions–I can see incorporating some of them into my work with adolescents. I keep coloring supplies in my office and often find that people participate better in session (young and old) if they have their hands occupied. And you added another reason to my list of “work-friendly” iPad applications–so maybe 2013 will be the year one comes to live with me.


    • Rachelle on January 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      I love that you use coloring supplies to help people engage! And, yes, the ability to pull up photos on my iPad has been a HUGE benefit.

  2. JoAnn Jordan on January 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Wonderful suggestions, Rachelle! Similar to your question about being an artist, I ask about being a musician. Many will initially reply “no” but will later admit to playing instruments with the family or in school. The most creative answer I ever received was “playing the radio”. That opened up a conversation about radio stations they liked. Turns out that person had a wonderful sense of humor and perspective about life.

    • Rachelle on January 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      That’s a good point, JoAnn! I also encounter family members who think the senior isn’t musical, but then they end up singing every word to every song. That’s always fun to see!

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