We’ve all done these, even me. But the sooner we get over these tendencies, the better off we’ll all be. These are five mistakes every therapist makes, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not just beginner therapists doing these. I’ve heard of plenty of therapists with decades of experience who still consistently make these mistakes. So, let’s try to make things a little easier on ourselves and get over these!
1. You work harder than your client: When I was in graduate school, my favorite professor gave me this advice “Never work harder than your client”. At the time, I didn’t know what he meant by that. I mean, we’re being paid to work. Shouldn’t we be working harder than the client that is paying us? Now I know he wasn’t telling us to be lazy therapists, he was trying to remind us of how hard change is. If the client is going to make any changes, it requires a lot of hard work for them. We can’t do the changing for them, no matter how hard we try. It simply never works when the therapist is working harder for the client. There’s a particular type of client that causes most therapists to make this mistake. It’s the client who seems desperate, yet is unwilling to do any work. It’s only natural to assume that if someone’s “desperate” they’d be willing to do anything, which is why I think it takes us so long to realize that this particular client isn’t actually doing anything. I was working with a client like this recently and no matter what I did, nothing seemed to work. She seemed so desperate to get better that I became desperate too. I started reading all these books about her particular issue and then dispensing the best information from each book to her, but still nothing “helped”. Then it dawned on me, why am I the one reading all these books? Shouldn’t she be reading them since she’s the one with the problem? I slowly realized that the real problem here was that she wasn’t willing to do any work. I was working harder than my client, and that’s the real reason why she wasn’t getting better.
2. You take your client’s side exclusively: If you’re doing individual therapy, it’s only natural to want to take your client’s side and advocate for them to have a better life. Often, what brings our clients to therapy in the first place is that they are having a problem with other people. These other people might be institutions, people in the work place, neighbors, “friends”, but most of the time the difficult people in your client’s life are their family. Sometimes these people really are victimizing your client. Sometimes, your client is the one victimizing them. A few years back I had a client that all she wanted to do was complain about how horrible her husband was. I kept giving suggestions on how she could make things better between them, but she wasn’t even willing to do the simplest thing to improve her relationship. It seemed all she wanted to do was slam the guy and seemed to relish getting herself worked up about it infront of a professional. I asked to have him come in with her some time so we could we work on these issues, she refused. This set off yet another red flag. Her refusal to allow him to come in and actually work on the issues made me wonder if the client had a hidden agenda. She finally agreed to let him come in for one session. During that session he revealed things about my client that shocked me. Indeed, she had been lying about everything. She never came back to another session after that and I feel that time that could have actually helped her was wasted because I was only hearing her side of the story and not the truth.
3. You let your clients dictate your schedule: Let me explain what I mean by this. If you let your client reschedule their appointments all the time, eventually you are going to get confused. This “confusion” eventually causes you to double book, forget about appointments, and have you end up looking like the absent-minded therapist. Of course, it’s not completely your fault. If your clients would just stick to their weekly appointment time every week, there wouldn’t be any confusion. Clients rescheduling all the time is annoying and eventually even the most organized therapist is going to find themselves in trouble because of it. The cure for this is to set really strong boundaries with clients from the very first session. Explain to them that it’s best that whatever day and time they choose for their standing appointment is a day and time they can keep moving forward. Explain to them that it is very difficult for you to reschedule and that you would appreciate it if they only ask to reschedule if they absolutely have to. I go one step further and tell my clients that if rescheduling becomes excessive that I’ll have to terminate.
4. You don’t contact your clients when you get back from vacation: A lot of therapists feel very strongly about not giving their clients appointment reminders. My argument is, if you feel even more strongly about when they no-show you, maybe it’s worth it to give them an appointment reminder. This is especially important when you go away on vacation. Without fail, if you don’t remind them when you get back, you will end up having a ton of no-shows that week after you get back from vacation. Personally, I think it’s worth it just to give the appointment reminder than deal with that frustration. The day Iget back from vacation, one of the first things I do is send out an email to all of my clients saying something like “I just wanted to let you know that I’m back from vacation and look forward to seeing you Monday at 4pm”. Now that I do that, I don’t get anymore no shows after I go on vacation.
5. You don’t set strong enough boundaries: This is a mistake that can really come back and haunt you. I know you care a lot about your clients, but they shouldn’t think that you are their friend. If the client is invited you to events and texting you on your personal cell phone, they thing that you are their friend. This can come back and haunt you big time. Therapists have lost their sanity and their licenses due to having poor boundaries with clients. It’s also not good for the client either. If the client tells you that you are the only person they can talk to, you aren’t doing your job.