Do you want to be a better therapist, but struggle with how to do it? Often times when we ask our clients how we can be better, they say something generic like “Oh no! This is great!” because they’re too timid to confront the therapist authority figure. Well, I can say as someone whose been therapy herself and as someone who now has your previous clients, that there are things you do that absolutely drove your clients crazy. And ultimately, drove them into my office.
1. Multitasking during sessions: Your clients hate it when you do anything other than therapy during their sessions. This includes: answering the phone during sessions, doing paperwork, messing around on your computer, eating your lunch, etc. When I bring this up with other therapists, they often act like I’m asking too much. “Not answer the phone?! What if it’s an emergency!” Let’s get real, how many times have you answered the phone during a session and it was a genuine emergency? And if it truly was an emergency, there should be instructions on your voicemail telling the client what to do. Let’s face it, during a genuine emergency, the most a therapist can do is refer the client to crisis intervention. At my first session, I give all my clients a magnet with all of the crisis numbers on it and instruct them to call one of those number instead of wasting their time trying to get ahold of me during an emergency. It’s been three years since I started doing this and I’m yet to have a client call me due to an emergency. Your clients are paying you to do therapy with them, not do anything else.
2. Taking forever to call them back or not at all: There seems to be a major problem in our profession with unreturned phone calls. The “phone tag” excuse doesn’t work anymore as most of our clients are doing text and email now. It takes two minutes to get back to someone and there simply is no excuse anymore. When I contact a business and they don’t get back to me within 24 hours, I assume they don’t want my business and I move on to someone else. Your clients are thinking the same thing. I find that the solution is to this problem is to set aside time at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day to return all contacts. I haven’t gotten a single complaint yet.
3. You talk about yourself during the sessions: Your clients want to know a little bit about their therapist, but “little” is the key word here. One or two sentences about yourself per session is all that is needed. Therapists can quickly fall into the trap of talking about their own problems excessively. I once had a therapist that spent the first 40 minutes just talking about her own problems and then left me with 10-20 minutes to discuss my issues. You better believe I felt ripped off and didn’t stay with her long.
4. You jump to conclusions: When I say “jumping to conclusions”, I’m of course talking about when you do so in a negative accusatory way towards the client. I’ve had lots of clients who came to me after their previous therapist had come to some sort of false conclusion about them and was being very confrontative. In each case, the therapist accused the client of doing or being something that was simply untrue, and when the client tried to explain himself, the therapist became angry and stuck to her guns. In most cases, the therapist threatened to take further action like have the client hospitalized or call their employer. Although we are trained therapists, we are not Sherlock Holmes. If a client denies something you think to be true, make a note of it in your record and then move on until you have more evidence. Remember, your deduction could be wrong.
5. You look and act unprofessional: Although there is no official “therapist uniform”, people still expect their therapist to be dressed something like a professional. They also expect this person to have showered that day and brushed their teeth. I feel embarrassed just writing this, but shockingly a lot of therapists don’t realize that they need to get dressed for work in the morning. I know this to be true because I hear stories about therapists like this all the time (some of them quite disturbing) and I used to have coworkers like this. When you barely put any effort into your appearance, it gives the message that you don’t have any respect for the client. It might also give the message that you’re a kook. Also, stop acting like your clients are your friends, and start acting like they’re your clients.