All any therapist wants to do is help their clients, but different clients have different needs. However, clients tend to fall into a few different “types” in general. Once you figure out what type your client falls into, you can make an effective strategy to help them get the most out of therapy based on their specific needs.
1. The Go-Getter: Clients that fall into this category are already sold on counseling and need no reminder that counseling is an effective way to achieve their goals. They also sold on you as a counselor. They believe that you are the right counselor for them and are open to your advice and suggestions. These clients tend to prefer an active therapist. They like sessions that are engaging, and especially like to do activities within the session. They are also very open to doing homework and like getting an assignment from the therapist after each session. They will make progress very quickly, but will switch therapists if you don’t keep them busy.
2. The Boulder: The boulder is almost the flip side of the go-getter. These individuals will be faithful clients and come to their appointments week after week, however, progress will be slow if anything. There will be very little movement on behalf of the client and at times you will wonder why they keep coming for therapy if they don’t follow any of your advice or suggestions. These clients need to be motivated, a lot. If will be necessary for the therapist to process any fears of failure or fears of success that are getting in the way of them taking action. You may also have to give the client an ultimatum, either show some effort or discontinue therapy. As mean as that sounds, I have found that most clients will start to make an effort at that point.
3. The Tire-Kicker: These are individuals that know they need help, but aren’t sold on therapy being the solution. They tend to ask an excessive amount of questions before even setting up a first appointment, if ever. If they agree to a session, they may ask that it be a “free consultation” or take place over the phone. I have found that it helps to ask the client directly what their fears or hesitations are about counseling. The therapist will need to clear up any misconceptions the client has and reassure them that therapy does indeed work.
4. The Debater: Some people just love to argue. Some people just have to be right. Don’t be one of those people, and you should be able to work with this client. Problems occur when the therapist argues back and sessions become a test of wills between client and therapist. I’ve found that if you deny this client the satisfaction of ruffling your feathers, they usually get bored with trying to argue with you and start to cooperate. Remember, for some people going to therapy is considered shameful and they argue with the therapist in order to feel less “helpless”. I choose to allow the client to “save face” in this manner until they feel comfortable enough to drop their guard down.
5. The Dabbler: This client dabbles in therapy, but never quite gives a firm commitment. They may try out therapy for a while, but then drop out just as things are getting better. Or they may alternate between cooperation and resistance in therapy. They tend to participate in bursts. Therapists tend to lose these clients when we go on vacation. I think consistency, reassurance, and motivation are key with dabblers. You have to make sure they stay on track because they become derailed easily.
6. The Slow-and-Steady: These clients will achieve treatment goals, but they will do so on their own time. They don’t like to be rushed or prodded into action. They usually prefer a more passive therapist and like having someone just to talk to. It is important for the therapist to be patient and to just be there for the client during the process. My best advice is to allow the client to lead the session and not be too pushy.