Jeff Guenther on Aug 25, 2020
DISCLAIMER: While this article comes from a place of truth, it’s also written with levity, so please read it with that in mind. It’s funny, I promise!
As a therapist, things pop into my head during sessions that I’d love to say to my clients. Things I might say to a friend or family member, for example. Things I might say to myself if I was struggling with something. There might not be anything obviously wrong with these statements, but if my own therapist said any of the following things to me during a session I’d be, at the very least, surprised, and at the very worst, offended and a little shocked. As therapists we need to be careful about how we come across. But we’re still human underneath our therapist hats, and sometimes I want to act like one by blurting out one of these statements. You feel me?
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Now, let’s do this. Here are five things I wish I could say to a client, but never would.
Oh God, if a therapist ever said this to me I might lose my mind right then and there. What a dismissive and unhelpful thing to say to a client, am I right? It’s such a great way to brush something off and avoid the pain and confusion. It’s incredibly invalidating. But also…I am a 100% believer in everything happening for a reason. I use it on myself dozens of times a day. It soothes me and grounds me. I’m able to navigate through things that make me feel angry or disappointed by really believing that there is a reason for everything, a good and important reason, even if I can’t figure out what it is. But ugh! It sounds like such privileged bullcrap that only works for people who aren’t in severe pain–– which it probably is. The struggle to not say this to a client is real and I hope it never slips out of my mouth.
Okay, so this one is similar to the last one in that it’s super dismissive and does nothing for the client. I laugh in horror every time I think of a therapist saying this to a client. Oh man, I’d love to see the look of shock on a client’s face if a therapist was like, “Yeah, whatever, it is what it is”. But you know, sometimes, as a counselor, when a client just can’t let something go and I’ve tried everything in the book to help them understand their issue and start moving forward, I just want to be like, “It is what it is” because at that point, what else can I do? I’m literally out of things to say and we’ve spent months going in circles on this one thing. Let’s move past it, please.
We all know that we can’t, and should not, ever give advice to clients. That’s not why they come to therapy, and that’s not how they grow. Worst of all, what if they take the advice and it was the wrong thing to do? They’d be pissed, and understandably so. Who am I to know what to do in every situation, right? But still… sometimes I have such an urge to be like, “Okay, this is exactly what you should do!!!” And it’s always coming from a place of love and care! It’s like, I know your mom would be totally open to hearing about your pain! Or I know your partner would love to hear about how worried you are about them! I want you to move toward healing and connection, and I so badly want to tell you what to do! This one bothers me so much sometimes that I routinely consider quitting therapy and becoming a straight shooting life coach.
Okay this one is a little extra, I know. DON’T JUDGE ME. But sometimes I just get so upset with my client’s parents who have been so incredibly hurtful, neglectful and abusive that it makes me just want to quietly and calmly say, “Your parents are the absolute worst.” I know it sounds aggressive, but you’ve gotta imagine me saying this in the sweetest and most gentle way possible. Like, “Aww, sweetie, your parents did a number on you and are still being abusive while gaslighting and manipulating you and you know what, your parents are the absolute worst. Seriously, they are the worst parents I have ever heard of.” No? Does it not come off as supportive? To me it really does. You probably just have to be there. Anyway, I promise I will never say this even though it pops into my head sometimes.
What therapist doesn’t think this? And what therapist doesn’t try their best to say this in the most compassionate and indirect way possible? Wouldn’t it be nice to be direct one of these days? How satisfying would it be to look at your client with a straight face and be like, “Have you ever thought about just stopping that incredibly problematic and unhealthy behavior?” I mean sure, they’re probably coming to see you so that you can help them figure out how to stop doing whatever destructive stuff they’re doing, and telling them to stop doesn’t cause them to stop 9 out of 10 times. But also, it’s like, maybe just stop doing that terrible thing you’re doing and your life would improve immensely, am I right??
In the end, I don’t imagine saying any of these things to my clients. It probably works out best that I stay within the bounds of what therapists should and should not say. But as a friend of mine, I’ll spew all of these very unhelpful statements at you eventually, and with love–– only because I’m not able to at work. You’re welcome. :)
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.