A Difficult Client

I had a new client to assess this afternoon and following a morning of appointments, I had

a break for lunch and then prepared the forms for her first session.


The client had booked the appointment over the telephone and seemed very pleasant but

had not indicated what issues she was facing so I was interested to hear about what was

bringing her to counselling.


Working at home


She arrived slightly late and after sitting down, asked me why I work from home and not

an office. She said she had been expecting an office and seemed disappointed that we were

sat in the lounge.


I explained that I prefer to work from home. I said that working from home helped to keep

the fees affordable for my clients. I suggested that, if she preferred, I could make a house

call to her home or book a consulting room in a local town where I occasionally work from.

Although I do have a home office where I carry out all of my administration, it is a working

environment and the lounge in the house is a much calmer and conducive atmosphere to

counsel in for both the client and myself.


Gathering details


After explaining about the boundary issues and confidentiality, I asked her if she would

mind if I took a few details for my records. She immediately tensed and I commented that

she looked unhappy about this request and asked her why this was.


The client became quite abrupt and fired questions at me as to why I needed to know so

much about her. I gently explained that while she is with me during a counselling session, I

have a duty of care towards her. And should she become ill or unconscious, it would be

helpful to know about her medical history, current medications, living arrangements and

work. These details can also provide a snapshot of the client's life and general well-being

and can be helpful in the counselling as a measure of their recovery.


The client said that she was not happy to provide details about herself to some of the

questions and I asked her why this was. Again, she was very abrupt and said that it was

none of my business.


Not happy


Sensing that the client was not happy with how the assessment was going, I asked her what

her expectations were of the counselling and she replied that 'it certainly isn't this!'

It felt like I was working with a petulant child as she obviously wanted to talk about her

issues but for some reason wasn't wanting to do so with me and rather than continue with

the seemingly pointless session, I asked if she would be happier working with another

counsellor as she didn't seem very comfortable with me.


At this point, she changed in her body language and tone of voice and said that she did

want to work with me and that she wanted to get started right away.


The client contract


I asked her to read over the client contract which is a form that I use to formalise the

boundary issues and confidentiality within the counselling relationship. I then ask the

client to sign the contract, just to acknowledge that they have been informed of the points

before continuing with the assessment.


The client looked quite angry as she was reading the form and at the end, refused to sign it

saying that she wasn't happy putting her signature to anything. I explained that it wasn't to

commit her to further sessions, but simply to acknowledge that I had explained what our

counselling relationship would entail, but again, she was not happy to sign the form.


I asked her what specifically was bothering her about it and she said that she didn't want to

be restricted to appointment times and that if she needed to see a counsellor, she should be

able to turn up and see me without an appointment saying 'otherwise, what is the point of

you being here?'


Again, I explained that appointment times are there to protect the client's confidentiality

so that they don't run into the next client or the one before them as it may be someone that

they know. Also that I don't offer an 'on call' service as this wouldn't be realistic given that I

work alone and that I also need to sleep and can't be on call 24 hours a day.


She seemed to be displaying more agitated body language and was appearing to be

unhappy with what she was hearing. Again, she tried to insist that I should work in a way

that suited her and when I calmly stated that that wasn't going to happen, she became

petulant and sulky with angry outbursts.


Ending the session


Although I work with many different personality types, the basic requirement is that the

client feels safe working with me and that we can, together, maintain a good therapeutic

working relationship.


It was clearly the case that this client was not, for whatever reason, happy to work with me

and despite my best efforts, was not going to engage in an honest conversation so I made

the judgement to end the session and suggest that she contact another counsellor to

arrange an appointment with them.


The client became verbally aggressive at this point and demanded that I schedule another

appointment with her. I explained again that for the counselling to be effective, there needs

to be a working relationship between client and counsellor which I felt that, in this instance

was not there.


I also calmly stated that I don't tolerate verbal or physical abuse directed towards me from

clients and asked if she would like me to recommend another counsellor in the area.

She then got up and after a tirade of abuse, slammed the door as she left.


Thinking it over


I took a few minutes to think about what had just happened and went over the

conversation in my mind to think of anything that I had said or not said that could have

triggered the response in the client. I had invited her to speak about her feelings during the

session and how she felt about me, the counselling and her being there and she had refused

each time I had tried to reach out to her.


In some cases, the client is either just not ready for counselling or has an expectation of

counselling that is not met by reality and in these cases, there is nothing that the

counsellor can do other than offer to provide the names of other counsellors in the area for

the client to try in case it is a personal dislike causing the response.


I write up a few notes about the session and noted in my diary to speak about this during

my next supervision session.


Thankfully, the rest of the day went well!

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