10 Mistakes Counselors Make


Avoidable errors

Here are ten errors commonly made by counselors, therapists, and other helping professionals:

Taking all prospects. Especially if you’re short of clients, it’s tempting to say yes to all comers. Of course, only if you think you have a decent chance of being of enough help to justify your and the client’s time and perhaps money, should you agree even to an initial session.

Being too emotional or not emotional enough. Most clients expect you to care but not be so invested as to lose your objectivity or to make the client feel that unless progress is quick and significant, you’ll get upset or even fire the client. Conversely, some counselors, by temperament and/or training, believe they need to be flat, a blank slate, on which the client can “draw.” While very occasionally, that’s true, a flat demeanor inhibits the client’s connection with and desire to please the counselor, which are usually helpful.

Ill-advised interruption. It’s too black-and-white to say “Never interrupt.” Long-winded, discursive clients may well value being interrupted and refocused. But too-frequent interruption shows disrespect for the client and may preclude the person realizing something that would have emerged only had s/he been allowed to continue uninterrupted.

Ill-advised advice-giving. It’s also too black-and-white to say that counselors shouldn’t give advice. It varies with the client: Some, who are a fund of ideas, should be mainly encouraged to come up with their own ideas. Other clients, however, might benefit from your suggestions, usually offered tactfully as, for example, “I’m wondering if you’ve considered doing X.”

Too-long utterances. Clients and counselors tend to space out during long utterances. They’re also more likely to forget what they want to say in response. Rule of thumb: Keep utterances to under one minute.

Too often using one modality: cognitive-behavioral therapytrauma-based, whatever. We all are predisposed to using one favorite modality. But the effective counselor weighs the benefits of that against less-used modalities in light of the client’s needs. For example, if you’re a body-work-based counselor and you sense that a client would be better served by CBT, a weakness of yours, it’s time to refer the client to a CBT specialist.

Too often recommending a particular solution. For example, some counselors recommend mindfulness to nearly all their clients. That may be helpful to some but not all.

Careless joking. I tend to be playful and so once, when I offered my client coffee, tea, or sparkling water, I said, “I like to pamper my clients.” She took that as flirting and was offended. Especially when first working with a client, it’s safer to exercise caution when using humor.

Giving too little or too much hope. Yes, it’s usually wise for the counselor to shade the truth toward hope—We all need hope. But offering too much hope is dishonest and when it doesn’t work out, causes the client to distrust you. So as a career counselor, I often try to strike the balance with statements like, “I’m optimistic that if you implement the strategy we’ve crafted, you’ll land a good job.”

Charging too much or too little. If you’re in private practice, charge too little and you’re short-changing yourself and making the client wonder, “If s/he’s good, why does s/he charge so little?” Conversely, if you charge well above the market rate, you convey that you’re in it more for the money than to be helpful. That reduces trust.

Source: Marty Nemko Ph.D.

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