Friday Counseling Issues: The Ideal Client

The next prompt idea from Kathleen Duncan:

Describe your ideal client? What would they do or say in your first session?


The first thing that popped into my head was, “If they were ideal, they wouldn’t need me” ūüôā ¬†However, I think I understand what was intended here, and I do have some ideas (you knew I would, right?)

Once I had a man come swaggering into my office and try to lay down the law: ¬†He would control the session; he would decide when and if his wife would speak; he would not put up with any hint of blame or accusation from me toward him, because he was the MAN, and he didn’t need any advice or so-called counsel from a mere woman.

I almost fell out of my chair laughing ūüôā ¬†The session ended in about ten minutes, when I began to inform him that I would be in charge; that this was MY office, MY rules; and that if he couldn’t deal with that maybe he’d come to the wrong place.

It didn’t take long to say goodbye.

So now you know what an ideal client is NOT.

I got a new client two weeks ago who, in my experience, embodies everything a therapist could  hope for. She was obviously distressed, but friendly and open. She was nervous.  They all are when they come the first time. There are so many goofy stereotypes out there about therapists.

She allowed me a few minutes to get my paperwork started before she began to talk. ¬†Once that was done, I said what I always say: ¬†“So, (name), what brings you here today?” ¬†Sometimes the person can immediately speak freely. Not always. If they don’t seem to know where to start, I’ll say, “Let’s try this: ¬†You fill in the blank. ¬†“I’m here today because_________.” That usually does the trick. ¬†The first session almost always belongs to the client. Once they get started, they have no trouble filling up the time while I type notes. ¬†Sometimes their stories are disjointed, but it doesn’t matter. ¬†We’ll go back and put things in sequence later.

The ideal client states her problem clearly, giving necessary details but not cluttering things up with extraneous information.

Then I can start asking questions. ¬†I will usually ask the person to give me a straight “yes” or “no.” ¬†You can’t imagine how hard that is. ¬†“Well, yes, kind of, but. . . . .” ¬† In the first session, I don’t need all the BUTS. ¬†An ideal client tries to honor my request for short, clear responses.

An ideal client  tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Seriously, how can I possibly be helpful if you lie to me? ¬†Of course I understand that one person’s perspective will be different from another’s, and I take that into account, especially in marital counseling. ¬†But it would be silly for anyone to come for help. PAY for help, and not to tell the truth.

An ideal client listens. He doesn’t immediately “but” me after every single thing I say. “Well, yes, but that won’t work because. . . . .Well, yes, but I’ve tried that and. . . . . .Well, yes, but my wife/husband NEVER listens/cares/tries. . . . .”

I tell a lot of people, “You know, every time you say ‘Yes, but’ you are effectively dismissing whatever I have said to you without taking the time to think it through. The definition of insanity, according to Einstein, is to keep doing things the exact same way while hoping for a different outcome. ¬†If what you are doing hasn’t worked for years, then don’t you think it’s time to try a different approach?”

The ideal client is willing to acknowledge his own contribution to the problem. He doesn’t come in with the expectation that I’m going to fix the people who aren’t there. ¬†He accepts that he can’t change anyone else; he can only change the way he reacts to everyone else.

The ideal client actually does whatever “homework” I may ask for. ¬†I don’t give much homework, because my experience has been that there is a hasty, if any, attempt to finish just before the session starts.

Here’s one that may surprise you. ¬†The ideal client tells me if she doesn’t approve or accept something I’ve said, or that I’ve offended her. ¬†She then accepts my heartfelt apology, and we go on from there. I never, ever want anyone who feels hurt or offended to leave my office with that simmering in her heart. ¬†I’ll never be able to help her if we don’t clear it up right away.

Finally, and most important to me, the ideal client embraces my use of scriptural principles in counseling. Makes the work so much more effective.

What if they don’t? ¬†Do I ram Bible down their throats? ¬†Of course not. I would never do that. ¬†I don’t have to have my open Bible in front of me to counsel from a position of truth. ¬†I’m thankful that most of my clients welcome the use of the Bible and biblical principles. I can think of only two who have elected to go elsewhere because they weren’t comfortable with biblical counseling, even after I assured them that I would honor their preference.

The ideal client comes seeking help, willing to listen, willing to work, willing to change harmful patterns of thinking, willing to consider the option of medication, willing to accept his own responsibility.

And I have a lot of them like that. ¬†It’s a beautiful thing.