20 Tips for When You Dislike a Client

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As a counselor, what do you do when you dislike a client?

Have you ever counseled someone you found offensive? Or, maybe you liked the actual person, but dreaded sessions with them due to an annoying tic, the sound of their laugh, or something equally irritating to you?

As counselors, we’re supposed to have positive regard and a non-judgmental attitude when it comes to the clients we see. It may feel wrong, alarming even, when we find ourselves with an aversion to someone we want to help. In the very least, it feels very un-therapist-like.

This is one of the reasons why, as mental health professionals, it’s important to be aware of personal values as well as have an awareness of populations that are challenging to work with. This is necessary to avoid imposing personal values on the client, which is often done unintentionally. For example, if you know you cannot remain objective when working with sex offenders or someone with racist beliefs, the ethical path is to seek supervision/consultation and training.

While we should generally refrain from referring clients out based on our personal values, attitudes, and beliefs, it may be appropriate to terminate when it becomes apparent that the counseling relationship is harmful to the client or when the client is no longer benefiting from counseling. In such cases, the therapist should assist in referring and transitioning them to another provider.


Since dislike of a client is not an ethical reason for referring or terminating, here are 20 tips for when you find you do not like, are annoyed by, or dread sessions with a client.

20 Tips for When You Dislike a Client

1. To start, redefine how you view like vs. dislike.

Instead of liking/disliking, think relating to/not relating to. The more you think in terms of “dislike,” the more prone you are to it. It may even change how you treat that particular client.

2. Look for the positive.

Find a few things about the client that you appreciate or admire. Focus on their strengths and likable qualities. (Be sure to point out the strengths to the client!)

3. Practice empathy, compassion, and radical acceptance.

If the client is “unlikable” to you and possibly others, imagine how difficult it is to be in their shoes. They probably have an awareness, on some level at least, that others do not respond well to them.

4. During the first few sessions, ask the client about previous experiences in therapy, including what they liked or did not like, and what worked well for them.

If sessions have been challenging, it may be that the client is not responding to your interventions. Similarly, if a session is boring for you, it may be that you are using the wrong techniques. Change it up with a different approach.

5. Remain patient and open-minded.

Oftentimes, the solution to “dislike” is getting to know a person better. Also, be aware that what you are seeing could be a defense mechanism or strategy the client used to survive in the past. Your role as a counselor is to teach healthy coping skills (while at the same time validating the client for finding ways to survive).

6. Recognize transference and countertransference.

When you find that you initially dislike a client, explore transference with them. They may be resistant because you remind them of someone else (which impacts your personal reactions). If transference continues to hinder progress, consider termination. For countertransference, seek supervision and training.

7. If you feel emotionally drained or exhausted by a certain client, set a boundary.

Recognize when you are taking on too much of the client’s pain. Remember that you can be empathetic without feeling everything the client feels. Also, try to leave work at work. Do not let your clients’ problems consume you in your personal life. On the other hand, if you do not experience any empathy or find yourself uncaring, disinterested, or detached, consider taking a break. It may be time to reassess your fitness as a therapist or even explore a new career.

8. Recognize when the client is bullying, intimidating, insulting, dismissing, etc.

Do not take it personally. Point out the behavior in real time and then explore. Is the client aware of the behavior? Where did the client learn it? What are their intentions? How has it worked in the past? How might it impact others? What are alternative, prosocial behaviors?

9. If you are unsure of exactly why you are dreading a certain client or session, delve deep and do some reflection.

Seek supervision and consult to find what is bothersome to you.

10. If, on the other hand, you find that you are dreading all sessions, you might be burnt out or experiencing vicarious trauma.

It might be time to take some time off work, re-up your self-care game, and/or seek therapy yourself.

11. Learn from the “unlikeable” client.

Working with a client you find offensive or are annoyed by will challenge you more than working with a client who is personable, open, and motivated. You have to find ways to be compassionate and empathetic in order to connect with and help the challenging client. You will also learn about your own biases and become more self-aware. The “unlikeable” client will help you grow and improve as a clinician.

12. Recognize and ditch resentments.

If you resent or dislike a client because they are not progressing, not doing their homework, not following suggestions, etc., check yourself. You only provide the tools. It is up to the client to use them. Do not attach yourself to a client’s successes… or failures. Also, recognize where the client is in the change process. If you are using interventions for the “action” stage of change, but the client is in “precontemplation,” you will not get anywhere. Furthermore, instead of labeling the client as resistant, assess stage of change and match interventions accordingly. If the client continues to not progress and/or is not benefiting from therapy, consider termination.

13. If you realize it’s some nervous habit or tic that’s bothering you, consider pointing it out to the client in an honest and non-judgmental way, especially if you have a good rapport with or know the client well.

Broaching the subject opens the door for exploration. The client may not realize they do it or that others notice (and could be offended by) it. For example: a client who picks at their cuticles when they talk about their mother or who makes a joke whenever they feel uncomfortable. By noting the behavior, you increase awareness and the potential for growth.

14. When pointing out the annoying behavior/tic, consider using appropriate self-disclosure (or tell about someone you know) to help normalize the undesirable trait. This helps if the client seems embarrassed or uncomfortable.

Talk about how you used to bite your nails, for example. Or tell about someone who clicked their pen or smacked their gum and was able to ditch the bothersome habit. Be sure to tell about how you/they successfully changed the behavior!

15. Recognize when it’s behavioral/habitual vs. symptoms of a mental disorder.

For example, it can be challenging or frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is experiencing mania, but it is helpful to separate that person from their disorder. It may be something that have little or no control over, or have trouble managing. Provide your client with psychoeducation and teach about symptoms.

16. Similarly, recognize that some of what you are seeing may be a result of past trauma.

People react to trauma differently. What helped them survive in the past is no longer effective in the present, and their behaviors (i.e., frequent outbursts of anger, dishonesty, etc.) may even push others away. Teach coping strategies for recognizing and managing trauma reactions as well as teaching healthy coping skills.

17. Also, recognize when what you are seeing may be due to a brain injury.

A brain injury can cause personality changes and/or cognitive deficits. Someone with a brain injury could be forgetful, aggressive, anxious, impulsive, and lack emotional regulation, decision-making skills, and problem-solving skills. A thorough biopsychosocial assessment helps to identify brain injuries, but likewise note that there are many individuals who are unaware of past head injuries or their impact.

18. Teach social skills!

Try educating and roleplaying prosocial behavior when you find that you dislike a client. Also, it may be appropriate to let the client know how their behavior impacts you. For example, when a client frequently interrupts, point it out as it happens and express that it is off-putting. Then, wonder aloud how others feel when interrupted by the client. Suggest that they may feel disrespected, unimportant, undermined, or may altogether avoid conversations with the client.

19. If you dread seeing certain clients because you never know what to say, how to respond to them, or feel anxious about long pauses, stop!

You are making it about you, not the client. Recognize that beginner counselors almost always experience some discomfort and self-doubt. Accept that you may not say the “right” thing or be able to answer a question. Learn to be comfortable with silence. If you truly do not know what to say, be transparent. Say something like, “I’m not familiar with that. Let me think on it (or research it) and get back to you.” Do not allow your anxiety or self-doubt to hinder a client’s experience in therapy. To engage clients who are challenging or indifferent (i.e., never have anything to talk about), use evidence-based psychoeducational or interactive techniques (i.e., guided imagery, handouts, aromatherapy, etc.)

20. Lastly, be aware that if you are annoyed by or dislike a client, they will (most likely) pick up on it.

If you’ve already tried all the tips listed here and you still dislike a client, and if you are unable to be transparent, compassionate, empathetic, and/or show unconditional positive regard, consider termination and referral. Explore your strong reaction to the client with supervisors, and seek training to enhance self-awareness.


Summary

In conclusion, it is important for counselors to be aware of their reactions and biases when they dislike a client. Since it is unethical to refer a client due to personal dislike, counselors should utilize strategies for managing attitudes and assumptions while providing the client with effective, person-centered services.

When you experience feelings of “dislike” for a client, start by reframing your thoughts. Seek supervision and training. Also, effective counselors recognize the difference between personality and symptoms of mental illness, defense mechanisms, or trauma reactions.

As a therapist, do not take it personally, and always remember the roles transference and countertransference play. Set boundaries and practice regular self-care to avoid burnout. Lastly, recognize that there is something to love in everyone. Practice a strengths-based approach and focus on the positive.

16 Best e-Newsletters for Therapists

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This is a list of the 16 best email newsletters for therapists, other mental health workers, students, and consumers. These e-newsletters were selected for quality/relevancy of content and usefulness of resources.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

Albert Einstein

Please repost this and/or share with anyone you think could benefit from these resources!

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

16 Best e-Newsletters for Therapists

Newsletters are categorized based on target population: General/nonspecific and trauma-informed newsletters for therapists and counseling students, newsletters for addiction professionals, newsletters for both mental health professionals and consumers, and newsletters for research news.


For additional resources for therapists (posted on this site), see Free Online Education for Mental Health Professionals, Professional Membership Organizations for Mental Health Professionals, and Resources for Mental Health Professionals.

Mental Health Counselors & Students

General/nonspecific and trauma-informed e-newsletters

ACEs Connection Daily Digest

Site/Organization: ACEs Connection

Site Statement: “ACEs Connection is a social network that recognizes the impact of a wide variety of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in shaping adult behavior and health, and that promotes trauma-informed and resilience-building practices and policies in all families, organizations, systems and communities. We support communities to accelerate the science of adverse childhood experiences to solve our most intractable problems. We believe that we can create a resilient world where people thrive.”

Best for: News/articles about trauma and Webinar opportunities

Center for Complicated Grief Newsletter for Professionals

Site/Organization: Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia School of Social Work

Site Statement: “Receive the latest in industry news, therapy techniques, and new developments in Complicated Grief. New articles are added and updated regularly.”

Best for: Free Webinar opportunities and news

National Council Newsletter

Site/Organization: National Council for Behavioral Health

Site Statement: “The National Council for Behavioral Health is the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services. Together with our 3,381 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, the National Council is committed to all Americans having access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery.”

Best for: Webinar opportunities, trainings, news, and other resources

Psychiatric News Update

Site/Organization: American Psychiatric Association

Site Statement:Psychiatric News Update is a weekly e-newsletter bringing you up-to-the-moment news about APA news; services, programs, and educational materials available to APA members; and links to the latest research reports in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric News, and Psychiatric Services.”

Best for: News/research and training opportunities (free for members)

Psychiatry Advisor Update

Site/Organization: Psychiatry Advisor (from Haymarket Medical Network)

Site Statement: “Psychiatry Advisor offers psychiatric healthcare professionals a comprehensive knowledge base of practical psychiatry information and resources to assist in making the right decisions for their patients. Creating your free account with Psychiatry Advisor allows you access to exclusive content, including case studies, drug information, CME and more across our growing network of clinical sites.”

Best for: News and articles related to psychotropic medications, and training opportunities

Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy e-Newsletter

Site/Organization: Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy

Site Statement: “A strong voice for psychotherapy and home for psychotherapists, the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy is committed to preserving and expanding the theoretical and evidentiary base for psychotherapy and psychotherapeutic relationships, supporting life-long learning of psychotherapeutic skills, as well as making the benefits of psychotherapy accessible to all. The Society is an international community of practitioners, scholars, researchers, teachers, health care specialists, and students who are interested in and devoted to the advancement of the practice and science of psychotherapy. Our mission is to provide an active, diverse, and vital community and to generate, share, and disseminate the rapidly accumulating evidence base in clinical science and practice.”

Best for: News and research

Addiction Professionals

Addiction & Recovery eNews

Site/Organization: Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)

Site Statement:Addiction & Recovery eNews is a bi-weekly newsletter delivering trending and breaking news, innovations, research and trends impacting the addiction-focused profession to over 48,000 addiction professionals every other Friday.”

Best for: Training (both free and low-cost) opportunities, news, and employment postings

ASAM Weekly

Site/Organization: American Society of Addiction Medicine

Site Statement: “The ASAM Weekly is a source of timely, useful news briefings of top stories for addiction medicine combined with ASAM developments in education, advocacy, state chapter news and more. ASAM Weekly is a great way to keep informed and is delivered to the inboxes of ASAM members every Tuesday.”

Best for: News and articles about addiction medicine

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Emails – Resources for Professionals

Site/Organization: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

Site Statement: “The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs… With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction. Stay up-to-date on the latest addiction treatment trends, research and practices as well as news about Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s facilities, events and staff with Clinical Connection, [a] bi-monthly e-newsletter.”

Best for: Free Webinar opportunities, online courses, news, and podcasts

National Harm Reduction Coalition

Site/Organization: National Harm Reduction Coalition

Site Statement: “National Harm Reduction Coalition is a nationwide advocate and ally for people who use drugs. We are a catalyst and incubator, repository and hub, storyteller and disseminator for the collective wisdom of the harm reduction community.”

Best for: Resources, free Webinars, news

Partnership to End Addiction Emails (for Professionals or Family Members/Caregivers)

Site/Organization: Partnership to End Addiction

Site Statement: “Partnership to End Addiction is a result of the cohesive joining of two pioneering and preeminent addiction-focused organizations — Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. We combine our depth of expertise with our compassion-driven, hands-on approach to deliver solutions to individuals and families and proactively take action to incite productive change. Together, as Partnership to End Addiction, we mobilize families, policymakers, researchers and health care professionals to more effectively address addiction systemically on a national scale.”

Best for: Policy news and research

Mental Health Professionals and Consumers

DBS Alliance Newsletter

Site/Organization: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Site Statement: “DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders. DBSA offers peer-based, wellness-oriented support and empowering services and resources available when people need them, where they need them, and how they need to receive them—online 24/7, in local support groups, in audio and video casts, or in printed materials distributed by DBSA, our chapters, and mental health care facilities across America.”

Best for: News and resources

Mental Health America Newsletter

Site/Organization: Mental Health America (MHA)

Site Statement: “Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. MHA’s work is driven by its commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal.”

Best for: Webinars that offer certificates of attendance, news, recommended articles/podcasts, and downloadable toolkits

Research News

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Weekly e-Newsletter

Site/Organization: Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Site Statement: “The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is a global nonprofit organization focused on improving the understanding, prevention and treatment of psychiatric and mental illnesses. The Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.”

Best for: News and Webinar opportunities

Recovery Bulletin

Site/Organization: Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital

Site Statement: “The Recovery Research Institute is a leading nonprofit research institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, dedicated to the advancement of addiction treatment and recovery. The Recovery Bulletin is a free monthly e-publication summarizing the latest and best research in addiction treatment and recovery.”

Best for: Research news related to addiction and recovery

ScienceDaily Newsletters

Site/Organization: ScienceDaily

Site Statement: “ScienceDaily features breaking news about the latest discoveries in science, health, the environment, technology, and more – from leading universities, scientific journals, and research organizations.”

Best for: The latest research findings


Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

20 Check-In Ideas for Therapy Sessions

This is a list of 20 check-in ideas for counseling sessions

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How do you start out a counseling session? For example, my go-to check-ins for gauging where the client is at are: “How has your day been?” and “How are you feeling today?”

Checking in helps to assess for mood and can create a focus for the session. Check-ins can also help to increase the client’s comfort level and create a safe space for sharing and healing.

We all need somewhere where we feel safe.

Emma Thompson

This is a resource list for mental health clinicians with 20 check-in ideas for therapy.


Check-In Ideas for Therapy Sessions

1) I’m glad you’re here! What brings you in? (For initial session)

2) Good to see you! How was the drive?

3) What are you hoping to get out of our session today?

4) What are your goals for today?

5) What would you like to focus on today?

6) Where would you like to start?

7) Would you like to start by reviewing the homework session?

8) Let’s begin with a short meditation. [Guide client through meditation or imagery exercise]

9) Last week we left off on [topic or themes from previous session]. Where do you want to pick up today?

10) How is your mind?

11) Where are you at today?

12) Rate your mood on a scale from 1-10.

13) What are some things you’re feeling good about?

14) What’s been going well this week?

15) What’s something positive that’s happened since we last met?

16) Anything new or exciting since we last met?

17) What’s new in your world?

18) What are some highs and lows you’ve experienced?

19) What’s been working for you and what have you found challenging?

20) Catch me up on things.


For additional check-in ideas, see Group Check-In Ideas and Do You Speak Therapist?


For avoiding suggestibility in initial interviews, read Client Suggestibility: A Beginner’s Guide for Mental Health Professionals from the American Counseling Association.


Click below for a PDF version of this post:

20 Check-In Ideas for Therapy

37 Powerful Therapy Metaphors

Effective analogies to illustrate growth, self-care, emotions, addiction, grief, counseling, and life concepts

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As a counselor, you probably have a few “go-to” therapy metaphors that you use in sessions. For example, the “airplane oxygen mask” metaphor is a powerful analogy that demonstrates the significance of meeting your own needs before attempting to help others.

Another example of a therapy metaphor is the “rearview mirror” analogy. If you’re driving, and your entire concentration is on what’s behind you, you’ll crash. Good drivers, in contrast, focus ahead, but also regularly check the rearview mirror. The “rearview mirror” metaphor effectively illustrates how recovery from drugs and alcohol requires learning from, but not dwelling on, past mistakes and regrets.

Powerful Therapy Metaphors: Analogies in Counseling

The following is a list of helpful therapy metaphors and analogies for growth, self-care, emotions, addiction, grief, counseling, and life.


For additional therapy metaphors, click here.

For commonly used therapy questions and phrases, see Do You Speak Therapist?


Metaphors for Growth & Self-Care

Forming a new habit is like carving a path in the jungle. You trod through the undergrowth and take the same route over and over again, until a clear path is formed. Meanwhile, older pathways become overgrown and wild, disappearing from sight with unuse.

A habit forms the way water carves a new stream or river.

You can’t see the grass growing, but after a week or so, you can see that the lawn needs mowing.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Mind the “check engine” light in your car. It indicates that something is wrong; if you ignore it, the problem will likely become worse. The longer you ignore internal cues, the greater the damage to your “car.”

A plant requires the right amount of water, sunlight, and fertilizer to grow and thrive.

You are a battery that needs to be recharged every so often.

Metaphors for Emotions

Our emotions are like a thermometer in the window. You can see clouds or rain or sun, but without a thermometer, you won’t know if it’s 90 degrees or 17 below. Emotions impact how you experience the outside world.

Life is like a heart monitor; there are ups and downs. If it goes flat, you’re dead.

The more you bottle up your emotions, the more likely you are to explode.

Repressing anger is like stuffing trash in a garbage can. Eventually, it’s going to spill over if you don’t take out the trash.

When you resent someone, it’s like drinking poison and expecting them to die.

Anxiety is a hungry monster that gets bigger when you feed it.

Worrying is like riding a stationary bike; you can peddle as hard as you can, but you’ll never get anywhere.

Therapy Metaphors for Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the soul.

When you’re in active addiction, you’re a shadow of yourself.

Addiction is like being in a toxic relationship. It’s all-consuming, lust-worthy, and even thrilling at times… but at the cost of your health and well-being. You have to break up in order to move on with your life.

Addiction is like a tornado, ravaging everything in its path. After the storm, it’s time to rebuild. It won’t look exactly the way it did before the tornado hit… but there’s potential for things to be even better.

Addiction is like other chronic health conditions in that there’s no cure, but it’s 100% manageable with treatment and lifestyle changes.

The longer you sit and stare at a plate of cookies, the more likely you are to give in to temptation. Set yourself up for success by avoiding triggers when possible.

If you hang out in a barber shop long enough you’ll end up getting a haircut.

Temptation is like a muscle that grows weaker with use until it finally gives out.

Living life without drugs or alcohol is like any skill; you first learn how to do it and then you have to practice. You may slip up, but don’t give up; learn from your mistakes. You can’t excel at anything without practice.

Cravings are like waves; ride them out until the wave recedes.

Attempting to save someone from drowning is dangerous. In their frantic efforts for oxygen, they’ll claw over and push the person trying to help underwater. This is an unconscious survival instinct. When your loved one is in active addiction, they’ll fight anyone and anything that gets in their way of a gulp of air.

Metaphors for Grief

Grief is a deep wound that takes time to heal. The wound is raw and painful, but will eventually scab over, although leaving behind a permanent scar.

Every person you lose takes a little piece of you with them.

Metaphors for Counseling

Going to therapy is akin to filling your toolbox with tools.

In a car, your therapist is a passenger in the front seat, but you’re behind the wheel. A passenger offers assistance with reading the map and providing directions, but it’s up to you to choose the turns you’ll take, and ultimately, the destination.

A counselor doesn’t provide the answers, but offers the tools to find them.

Going to therapy is like going to the gym; you may feel sore and you won’t see immediate effects, but the long-term results are gratifying and well-worth the investment.

Therapy Metaphors for Life

Problems in life are like bad smells; you can attempt to mask them or cover them up, but you have to remove the source before they can truly go away.

You can’t choose the canvas or paint in life, but you decide the picture you’ll paint.

Your life is a book with many chapters and pages. Every day is a new page. You write your own story.

Life is like a “choose your own adventure” book. You make decisions, but you can’t always predict the outcome.

Sometimes you’re dealt a really sh**** hand. How are you going to play your cards?

The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.


Post your “go-to” therapy metaphors in a comment!

5 Powerful Things Counseling Taught Me (Part One)

Counseling is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication. It’s also taught me about various aspects of human nature, from the brightest to the murkiest.

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In grad school, I learned theories and techniques of counseling. I learned basic and advanced counseling skills; I practiced various interventions and methods. My professors taught developmental theories and multicultural competence. I took classes in career counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling; I studied research and ethics.

And when I accepted a substance abuse counselor position at a drug and alcohol treatment center… I had no clue what I was doing… or how to be a counselor. I went into my first year as a clinician with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Negative thoughts consumed me. I questioned myself and wondered if I was in the right field.

“Do I have what it takes to be an effective counselor?” 

“Should I have pursued a career in research instead?” 

“Should I have pursued anything instead?” 

“Am I capable of helping others?” 

Furthermore, social anxiety crippled my ability to relate to clients; being genuine was difficult. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other “seasoned” clinicians, which only made things worse.

Gradually, my doubts and fears subsided; I felt more comfortable in my role. I accepted and settled into my new identity as a professional counselor; it was a good fit. I stopped trying to “fix” or control clients.

Anxiety no longer dictated my actions; I found a way to take ownership of my mistakes and accomplishments. Moreover, I learned to be okay with making mistakes. I accepted that I would never have all the answers. I let go of irrational beliefs that had previously plagued me. I thrived.

Today, I can reflect on my journey and on the positive changes I’ve made throughout the years. My chosen career is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal growth — success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication.

I’ve learned a lot the past ten years. This post explores the discoveries I’ve made and how I apply that knowledge to my life. But before delving into what I’ve learned, here’s what a few other clinicians have said on the topic:

Nancy Lee, MA, LPCC, Psychotherapist in Aurora, CO

“Being a counselor has shown me that it’s possible to live on the edge of what I know and don’t know. In a single moment, I can feel strong and confident, yet small and humble. Counseling isn’t about fixing problems. It’s about believing in my client’s capacity to connect with their own solutions, insight, and growth.”

Robert Martin, M.Ed Early Childhood Education & Counseling, Francis Marion University

“There is no learning … if there is not a relationship… The foundation of counseling and teaching is [the] relationship. There must be a connection. The student must know that you care about them personally and it is ok to make a mistake … Consequences and corrections can be given, but always directed at the behavior [and] never the person … That you are only talking about their behavior when you correct them … and not them. They must feel that you respect them … and if you make a mistake say, “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” … [Always respect] their differences, their hopes and weakness, their failures, their dreams, their divinity. There is nothing more important than this…”

Bridget Cameron, Artist, Depth Psychologist, Stress Counselor (1992-present)

“To accept people as they are, to be non-judgmental, to be directed by compassion, and to know how to be impartial so that I am fair-minded with all people and do not project any of myself into my client’s history and am non-attached to the outcome.”

In comparison, while I’ve learned much about compassion, connecting, and being okay with being wrong, I’ve also learned how to use counseling to be effective, both personally and professionally… and I’ve learned to be more guarded due to the darker aspects of human nature.


Here’s my list of small wisdoms, or, what counseling has taught me (the first installment):

1. How to remain calm

Emotion regulation was difficult for me as an adolescent and young adult. My emotions ruled me – lorded over me, even! Then, as a counselor, I observed emotion disregulation in clients. I realized how truly counterproductive (and ridiculous-looking) it can be.

I made a choice to stop engaging in negativity, with both self and with others. Feeding into an argument solves nothing, but the effort leaves you emotionally and physically drained. Luckily, my personal transition from chaos to calm was painless. By the time I learned how to remain calm, I was in my mid-20s; the intensity of my emotions had already naturally subsided. Today, calmness is my natural state.

2. Comfortable silence

In grad school, I learned to use silence as a counseling technique. Instead of filling up every minute of a session with reflections, open-ended questions, and paraphrases, we were encouraged to use “comfortable silence.”

Silence allows the client time to process and/or collect their thoughts. To me, it always felt horribly awkward (remember, social anxiety!) and wrong. I wanted to rush on to the next topic or to ask a question or… anything.

I’m not sure when it finally stopped feeling awkward. I just knew that one day I was sitting in silence with a client and it felt natural. Today, I use silence in my professional and personal life all the time. It feels nice to sit quietly and not feel pressured to talk.

3. Active listening

Counseling taught me to really listen. I learned to quiet my internal dialogue to hear and comprehend what’s being said. Instead of thinking about how I’m going to respond, I give my full attention to the speaker. I’m aware of body language and other nonverbals. Counseling has strengthened my communication skills.

4. Partial truths

Counseling taught me that people don’t always say what they mean. They often tell partial truths. There are many reasons for this: Fear of being judged, not fully trusting the therapist, feeling embarrassed, etc.

For example, a client who isn’t ready to change their drinking probably wouldn’t tell me they drink three bottles of wine every night. Instead, they’d offer a partial truth. “I usually drink a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s it.”

Partial truths are not lies; they allow for a certain measure of comfort. (A lot of people feel uncomfortable with lying because they were taught it was wrong, or possibly because they view themselves as honest – and honest people don’t lie.) Partial truths, on the other hand, don’t feel wrong (or less wrong, at least). Plus, they’re safe. A person can be partially truthful and still protect their secrets.

When I realized how common partial truths are, I changed the way I listened to clients… and to everyone. Instead of taking things at face value, I listen to what is being said while recognizing that much more is not being said.

5. Hidden agendas

I also discovered that there are plenty of people out there who seek counseling with hidden agendas. For example, a man sees a therapist, stating he wants to learn anger management techniques. What he doesn’t reveal is that he’s abusive to his wife. He recently lost control in an argument and pushed her down the stairs. She gave him an ultimatum: Therapy or divorce. He doesn’t believe he needs counseling, but he’ll do it to save his marriage. And he doesn’t tell his therapist this (of course). Why would he? It’s none of her business.

Both partial truths and hidden agendas happen outside of therapy (and for similar reasons). Words paint a very limited piece of the entire picture. People often show only what they want others to see while keeping their true motives hidden.

Because of counseling, I have a better awareness and understanding of why hidden agendas (and partial truths) exist. It’s not cynicism, but a form of acceptance. I recognize that half truths and hidden agendas serve a purpose. While I may never understand their purpose, I’m okay with it.

This awareness fosters caution; I’ll never be caught off guard.


There’s more to tell, but for the sake of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I’ll save my remaining insights of things counseling taught me for the second installment of this post (in which I’ll discuss giving money to the homeless and demanding respect, among other “lessons” from counseling).