How to be an effective client when in counselling

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A man and women talkingWhat is being an “effective client” in a counselling experience, I wonder? As a counsellor and clinical manager, I find this to be a thought provoking question. When we use the word “effective”, we have to ask: “to what end or to whose purpose”?

It seems to me that an effective client is one that is good at making sure they get what they want from the counselling experience. After all, you are the customer, the receiver of the service. So, what can you do to ensure you get the most from your clinical experience? Let me offer you a number of thoughts for your consideration to be a more effective client:

1. You are not the problem; the problem is the problem!

First and foremost it seems to me, an effective client is one who recognizes that while they may have a specific concern or problem, even a seriously painful one, they know they are still, at their core, a competent, healthy and functioning person. People who have the mindset that they are generally well-functioning and happen to have a specific issue, have an easier time finding and applying solutions to improve their condition, and generally are more optimistic.

Contrary to this position are people who have generalized their problem into a broader belief that they are basically an incompetent, poorly functioning, unlikeable individual. This attitude makes it tougher to have a successful counselling experience because there is the pessimistic mindset to overcome, and the person is not only wanting their problem to be fixed, but they are also looking for a counsellor to convince them that they are not the incompetent person they believe themselves to be.

2. You are no less of a person than your counsellor.

 An effective client views themselves as an equal person to the counsellor, disregarding any thoughts that the counsellor is somehow superior. When we hire a plumber, we recognize that they have a skill set we don’t have and respect them for that; especially when we have a leaky pipe, but we don’t think that we are somehow less a person compared to them. The same rule applies to the client-counsellor relationship: you may have a problem and the counsellor may have a degree on the wall, but the effective client is not intimidated by this and believes that they are as worthy a person as the counsellor. There is no need to feel “one down” to them in any respect. (And I will share a little secret with you: counsellors are people too, and they have many of the same issues going on for them as their clients have!)

 3. You are the driver not just a passenger on the counselling bus.

 Along with the sense of being an equal partner to the counsellor, an effective client will also see themselves as an equal partner in the clinical process, and will be actively involved in shaping their counselling goal and course of treatment. The effective client will direct the counsellor, telling them when they are on- or off-track in terms of discussing what the client wants to discuss. An effective client who sees themselves as an equal knows that they have a right to expect professional, caring and respectful treatment.

 4. You tell your counsellor about your counselling goal

 The effective client will have spent some time, perhaps briefly, thinking about what goal they want to achieve by the end of their counselling process. They will have asked themselves: “In what small but meaningful way do I want my life to be different at the end of my counselling with my short-term EAP counsellor?” This time spent will support a sharply focused discussion between two equals, the client and the counsellor, and provide effective outcomes for the client. Now, sometimes understandably it’s not entirely clear to people what their goal is, and often their initial goal for coming to counselling is just to tell their story and to be heard, which is a very important human need. A person may not be entirely clear about what goal will emerge after that. This is ok, and you can tell your counsellor that this is your goal: to tell your story and be heard.

 Best wishes for effective counselling experiences out there, to all of you effective clients!

By Randy Varga