Every provider has had that moment in the counseling office when you think…”what the hell just happened? ” Or…”what the hell am I going to do now?” It’s inevitable. We are not all-knowing nor should we be.
In the beginning of my practice I often repeated interventions that I learned in graduate school. I felt like an imposter (which is developmentally appropriate) and was honing my style just like every other green clinician. I kind of had a great script working for me – 5 minutes of check in, Gestalt work, some CBT interventions or art based ideas, then 10 minutes of reflection, processing & take-home ideas. It works! But, I was a bit of a robot & not super in tune with my clients.
After 13 years of practicing, I’ve developed a more robust style and the anxiety of the early days has diminished greatly. I’ve also let my sense of humor shine through as it has proven to be a huge help in building rapport. But that’s another topic for another post.
So here are my tips for becoming a flexible clinician whether you’re funny or not. Either way, meeting clients where they are and not worrying so much about what intervention we just utilized in minute 22 of our session seems like the way to go.
- Try to be on time and greet your clients with a smile. I like to wave energetically, and offer clients a drink of some sort. (Not the strong kind.) Find a greeting routine that works for you.
- Always, always put down your pen, pencil, laptop, etc. and really check in with your clients at the beginning of the session. Look them in the eye (if they are ok with that) and ask how they’ve been since you last saw them. Remember something they said last session and follow up about it.
- Let people share what they want to share. Utilize open ended questions to find out what they’d like to share and then follow up with a few well-placed reflections to see if there’s more there.
- Now. I know we’re supposed to be judicious with self-disclosure. But there’s nothing more anxiety defeating than feeling like you’re talking to your best friend about a shared life problem. And neither of you have a solution but you’re going to just ride this thing out and see it to the end. Because that’s what a lot of life is, right? Parenting for example. I mean who knows how to do that 100% well? The blogosphere is filled with mom after mom spewing well-meaning advice on one post and complaining about cleaning up peanut butter splats on the sofa on the next. That’s life right? Mountains and valleys. (Clinically speaking well focused and appropriate disclosure can improve normalizing and build an amazing therapeutic alliance.)
- Learn from your clients. I must see the most amazing clients because just this year I’ve learned how to perfect my slime recipe, that there is 3D technology that people use to print things, beekeeping sounds like a wonderful burgeoning profession, and that there is a band named gorillaz. I mean, can you even get an education like this in another occupation? I don’t think so. My clients teach me about resiliency, what works for them in helping relationships, what doesn’t work for them, how others want to be treated, how to navigate teen years, and most of all that laughter is a wonderful medicine.
- All of us are funny in our own way. Learn how to laugh and teach others. The most efficient way to do this is to laugh at yourself.
- Listen to what’s not being said. I love working with teenagers. They are often filled with “I don’t know’s” and “huh’s.” They call BS on evvveeerryything. They love life. They often have a hard time loving themselves. What better skill to teach them than mindfulness? Listening to the silence, the internal, the inner child. All those require mindfulness and it’s a wonderful gift to give teen clients.
- Tap into your client’s inner child. If they’ll let you. I have all kinds of little things in my office that adults LOVE to play with. Now, some are not going to come out and ask if they can play with something. In fact, they see the goodies in the box on the floor & then conversation often goes like this…
Oh, do you see kids?
Not really. I work with people ages 12 and up.
Oh. (insert confused face)
Then why do you have all that stuff? (pointing to the box)
I don’t know. I’m a hoarder.
I’m not sure how that got there. Damn cleaning people.
Oh that? That’s only for my fun clients.
I cleaned out my kids’ rooms this weekend.
Well, it sounds like you might hate your inner child. (concerned look on my face)
I dare you not to pick up that green slime. (straight face)
Laughter ensues. And 100% of the time they pick up something. I have a coloring book, slime, fidget spinners, legos, light up animal balls, card games, tiny brain teasers cubes, etc.