In every first session with a client I tell them that part of their job is evaluate whether I am the right therapist for them. While it is very important that your counselor is well-trained, if you don’t click with your counselor, the work you are trying to do will be much harder. Now, of course it often takes a few sessions to determine whether you can form a trusting, collaborative relationship or not.
I am always thankful when a client is willing to raise the “fit” problem with me. It gives us an opportunity to explore the disconnect, fix it if possible or happily refer to someone else. Too frequently disconnected clients choose to either keep plugging away (but being less and less vulnerable) or just fade away and you never know what went wrong.
But what if the counselor doesn’t connect with the client…and the client doesn’t know it? What should the counselor do?
1. Use supervision or consultation to explore the disconnect. Maybe the disconnect will reveal something useful about the counselee. Maybe it will reveal some pride or prejudice in the counselor. Maybe it will reveal some naiveté or lack of competency or empathy or conflict over goals. Or, maybe it will reveal some cultural differentness that is really hard to overcome.
2. Assess whether or not (again using supervision) whether progress is being made. Is the counselee growing in insight? Gaining control? Showing more fruits of the Spirit? Seeing a decrease in anxiety or depression? The counselor may need to reassess their goals for the client.
3. Consider attempting more “here and now” to explore what is going on in the relationship between counselor and counselee. HOWEVER, do not do this to tell them how you are feeling NOR to be condescending. This action is designed to help both of you to be more present and decrease disconnection.
4. If all else fails, refer. This would be appropriate if (a) you believe you are not competent to help them or impaired in some way (and you should communicate your lack–in a limited way–to the client when discussing referral), or (b) you believe the problem is that counseling is harmful (and again you should discuss why you think this way and what the options might look like for them. Remember to avoid abandoning them. Referrals are specific, take time, and are for their best interest, not yours.
The bottom line is that the onus is on the counselor to work through the disconnect and to do all that he or she can to fix the problem or to tolerate it if the client is making good progress. This is what it means to “love one another.” We fail to do so if we either ignore the problem or use the disconnect to get rid of counselees that do not feed our egos.