I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of concerns my client shared with me. She shared worries she had towards friends, family, transportation, finding a good paying job, finding a good treatment provider, and her energy level. I felt all of these topics were important and I didn’t know which one my client and I should tackle first. Perhaps family might be important to focus on because isn’t a good home foundation important? Or perhaps I should focus on her lack of transportation and creating a job search action plan because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has basic needs as the foundation of self actualization. Or perhaps still, none of these concerns were actually what brought my client to see me in the first place. I looked forward to supervision at my university for guidance.
I shared with my supervisor that I did not know what to focus on. He stated: “Just ask”. I sat there for a moment, confused. What does he mean to just ask my client? We had already established what areas of concerns she had? Then, I realized what he meant. I was trying to guess at what the client wanted to discuss first, and I had not asked what she felt was most important to talk about at that moment. How did I miss such an important concept?
Just asking my clients where they would like to focus has helped me in the following ways:
1)I got rid of the mind reader role I had designated for myself, trying to guess what would be most helpful for a client. Clients know their situation best and we can work together to find the area that is most important at the moment.
2)I am better able to create a person centered counseling sessions because we are focusing on the client’s needs for that session.
3)I have learned to be flexible with clients, knowing that an area of concern might be important this session, may not be during the next session, and that is okay.
As a new counselor, I still have a lot to learn about my role as a counselor. I incorrectly thought clients shared problem areas, and I would create a plan of attack for us. I was putting needless pressure on myself to have all the answers and I was not utilizing my client as a resource in the process. Since I have learned to ask where the focus should be, my clients and I are able to work together as a team, and develop an action plan for areas of concerns.
Jackie Torres is a counselor in Colorado with a particular interest in the world of work. She enjoys helping people find what makes them feel strong and energized at work. She is also learning to play the guitar.