Wednesday, January 8, 2014

PLANNING For Client Success




When was the last time you knew someone who followed their New Year's Resolution? If you can't think of an example, you're in the majority. A mere 8% of people successfully follow their resolutions each year. That leaves all the rest feeling discouraged and down on themselves. 

But this shouldn't be surprising news, right? We know better than anyone. Our job, after all, is change, and change is HARD.

During the course of therapy, our clients will "fail" on the path to achieving their goals in a multitude of ways. 
  • Fall off the wagon.
  • Speak to the destructive ex-partner.
  • Overwork, overeat, or overplan. 
  • Go off the grid. 
  • Hide from the world.
  • Explode in anger.
Or any of a dozen other vices they are in therapy to address. 

We know how hard it is to achieve change, both from our personal experience and from watching many, many clients go down the same path. There is no direct ascension in the path to success. Change is like a game of Chutes and Ladders. One spin moves you way up, and another can bring you back down again.

We know that. But our clients don't often know that. 

How many times have you had a client "apologize" to you for messing up on their therapy goals?

Or stop coming to counseling altogether, only to find out later that they did so because they were ashamed for violating a goal they discussed with you?

It is completely unrealistic to expect perfect success, without any setbacks, from anyone trying to accomplish a change in their lives. But clients often see the completely normal up-and-down path of working towards a goal as their own private failure. 

That is why I believe it's important that we go out of our way to disabuse clients of this unrealistic notion of success. Whether they're working towards a New Year's Resolution or trying to achieve another goal, it's part of our job to let them know that they are only able to affect the now.

We can do that by the simple act of believing in them. If someone has believed in us in the past, we may take the power of that belief for granted. But in reality, many people don't have that. Before they come to counseling, they have probably been struggling with this issue a long time. Their family and friends may be sick of hearing about it. Their family and friends may be part of the problem. The belief you have in their ability to change may genuinely be the only strength of belief they have in their life.


Your belief in them can be the very thing that teaches them by example how to believe in themselves. 

It opens the door to teaching them other tools to self-belief:


  • Creating opportunities to prove your own strengths.
  • "Flipping" the situation: if another person you trusted was facing the same odds, would you be as hard on them as you're being on yourself?
  • Rehearsing self-control before a trigger and increasing your ability to avoid temptation.
  • Reminding yourself that self-belief is something you can learn. 
Our job is a little like New Year's in a bottle - with every new client we're trying to set them up for success with challenges that are staggeringly difficult to achieve. But by believing in their ability to achieve their goals, we teach them that it is possible...even if there are a few bumps along the way. 

What do YOU tell clients to help encourage them success is possible? Comment below!