Have you ever wondered, “What do you do with a client that is triggering you?” Well, earlier today, somebody in one of my courses asked me that, “How do you handle clients that are triggers to you, or even clients that are really, really triggered and they’re struggling in a difficult place and it seems like the problem or the trauma won’t let them go? It seems like that’s all that they want to talk about and that’s all they can do. And you find yourself as a therapist frustrated, aggravated, and triggered. What do you do?”
Early in my career, I struggled with exactly that. And earlier today, when somebody asked me about that, I realized just as I was talking to them, about this response:
How far I’ve come from where I started in this field. Because my answer is, “I don’t think that I’m triggerable today.” I can’t remember the last time I had an experience of being frustrated with a client, of being frustrated with a problem, of being exhausted, because the client couldn’t let go of their problem or their trauma. I literally can’t remember the last time that happened.
Now, I don’t mean to say, “I’m so great, I can’t remember.” I don’t mean to say, “I’m Superman, so it doesn’t happen to me.” What I will say is because my perspective has changed early in my career when I was a baby therapist, if you will, I practiced something called cognitive behavioral therapy.
That’s the first way I learned how to do this work. The goal was to solve the client problem. So I would go to work and I would get my caseload, I’d get my clients, and then we’d have these staff meetings where we talked about what you were doing with your clients. Then I was going to their homes, and I was delivering services to solve the problem.
I’d get frustrated if the client wasn’t working with us the way I wanted them to be working with us. I’d get frustrated. But, now I don’t see it that way.
Now I practice Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years. And I realize my perspective has shifted so much. I don’t take it that way.
Now what I think when I’m working with a client is, “My job is to help them heal.” And if a client is really stuck in the problem, or stuck in the trauma, and they’re having a hard time letting all that stuff go, and they’re really going through it, it makes me wanna work even harder because all I see is a hurt human. All I see is a person who’s really struggling and it motivates me and triggers me to work even harder.
I don’t know how to not view my role as an honor and a privilege when I think about it, like someone is just going through life and they had something hard happen, maybe a divorce, or maybe the loss of a loved one, or maybe an addiction, or some problem became so hard in their life that they couldn’t cope, deal or move forward without help. And they found me and asked me to help them.
That is the greatest compliment and honor that I could get. And when I think about it in that way, it is impossible for me to think of my client as a point of frustration for me. I share that here because I want you to know how important it is that your mindset going through the session will influence your thinking through that session. The way you think about your client will impact how you serve that client. It’s just an impossibility not to.
Most times when I go to a restaurant, I order water. I’ve always been that way. And I had a close friend of mine who worked as a server in a restaurant, which I never did. He was with me and I said, “I’m ordering water.” And he said, “You never wanna order water in a restaurant.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because people who order water are typically a low tipper. And when you’re the server, you think of that table as a low tip table and it impacts the way you serve them. So if you order a drink, they don’t think of you as a low tipper and it impacts the way they serve you.” And I was like, “Wow.” And now here I am thinking about that.
The way you think about the person you’re serving impacts how you show up for them. So don’t allow yourself to think about the person as someone who is a frustration point, someone who’s not willing to do the work, someone who doesn’t want to be there, someone who’s just so stuck in the problem. Don’t think about those things ’cause it impacts the way you serve them.
Think about them as a hurt, struggling human being who gave you the honor and privilege to show up in their life while they’re struggling. And it’ll impact the way you serve them in a positive way.
And I think we owe that to all of our clients.