My clients aren’t just patients. They are people. People with lives just like ours. People with problems just like ours too.
Sometimes it’s easier to treat them like patients and use words like “noncompliant” and “insufficient progress,” but that can also dehumanize them. When we overpathologize and label people by their illnesses (mental or physical) we are taking away their dignity.
It’s easy to lose sight of the therapeutic value of listening. Just listening. Being present with someone who is in pain. Empathizing. Letting them know they aren’t alone. I’m not a therapist but it’s amazing how much of my day is spent listening.
When people feel heard and understood they are much more likely to hear and understand what you have to say. As a dietitian I love to share information and help people see food differently (my clients sometimes make fun of me for my enthusiastic use of handouts), but it all falls on deaf ears if the person isn’t open to hearing what I have to say.
When I’m frustrated with a client I sometimes take a step back and consider how I might feel in their position. The parent who can’t get their child to the appointment times I have to offer may be juggling work, the schedules of everyone else in the family, and his/her own self care. The client who isn’t able to follow their meal plan may be stuck in so much shame that they can’t find their way out. My frustration makes the situation about me, not them, and ultimately prevents them from getting their needs met.
Frustration can also be a sign that a boundary needs to be set. If I’m frustrated that a client perpetually no-show’s on me, I probably need to set a boundary with that individual. That boundary may be the motivator they need to make treatment their priority, and if not, they can choose to discontinue. Boundaries aren’t mean, they are healthy. If you’re confused by this, read Dr. Henry Cloud’s book.
When we treat others like people we acknowledge their humanity and ultimately have a more productive and mutually beneficial relationship with them. Because people matter. Every single one of us.