"Would you like to hear my perspective?" Why Rolling Consent Matters.
I often ask for consent (or permission) a lot in counseling when I have thoughts or opinions that I think might be helpful to share. I will say something like: “Would it be ok to share what I am hearing?” or “Would you like to hear my perspective?” Sometimes, clients will say back to me: “You don’t have to ask permission! I pay you for your thoughts/opinions/ideas!”
Nevertheless, I do it anyway. This practice is sometimes referred to as rolling consent and it is a way to continually assess whether or not the type of interaction I am having with another is mutual and affirmative. I practice rolling consent not because I feel like I have to tiptoe around clients, but because I believe this is a consistent way to model a form of interaction that is mutual, respectful, dialogical, and therapeutic. It also is a way to even out an inevitable power imbalance that occurs in a counselling room between a client and a therapist.
Practicing rolling consent continues to situate the person/client as the one in charge. So often, people come to a counselor because they are feeling out of control or disempowered in one way or another. As a counsellor, when I use rolling consent with the people before me, it allows room for the client to connect with their own voice, their own desires. It is also a gentle reminder that they are the ones in charge of their own healing. As a counsellor, I am coming alongside or behind them to support them in their desired goals.
Another reason I think it is important is that it is a trust building exercise between myself and a client. It is a constant reminder to the person I am trying to support that I am working for them and will continually try to put their needs and desires first in the therapeutic relationship.
Finally, I see the practice of engaging in rolling consent as a counsellor to be a way to help promote a culture of consent, beginning in the therapy room and then eventually transferred into other realms of life. It can help to promote a cultural shift in how people navigate decision making, boundaries, and different ideas in relationships. In fact, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention talks about this as an “empowerment-based prevention approach”, which helps people learn the skills to know and assess for situations that are unsafe earlier on and reduce the prevalence of violence, particularly sexualized violence.*
As a counsellor, practicing rolling consent is a way for me to stay ethically secure as I work for the overall good of the people whom I serve.