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Dawn Ferrara Jul 26, 2011

Lessons From Clients Past

One of the things I love most about being a counselor is seeing my clients grow and achieve their goals. Every now and then, I will hear from a former client and it is affirming to know that they are doing well. It’s one of those “feel good” moments. More often than not, however, we don’t really know how our clients fare once they’ve terminated with us. I think we all have a few clients that we wonder about. How did they fare when they left treatment?

The other day, I ran into one of those clients. I hadn’t seen him in several years. The young man who stood before me was a far cry from the angry, sullen teen that was getting suspended and dabbling in drugs. When I last saw him, he was a reluctant client who often glared at the wall more than he talked to me. For a number of reasons, he didn’t complete counseling. I often wondered what happened to that angry young man. He excitedly told me that he was now senior in college, engaged and getting ready to start his career. Before parting, he said something to me I will never forget. He said, “You believed in me when no one else did. I heard you.” Wow. Really? That was the last thing I expected to hear.

This experience reminded me that we never know how powerful an impact we may have on the person sitting across from us. Our clients often come to us in great distress, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Even when they seem resistant or disinterested, there is something dynamic happening. Interventions and techniques aside, sometimes the simple act of being present is the most powerful tool we have. Sometimes, in moments of silence, what is communicated non-verbally is heard the loudest. So next time I am sitting across from that difficult-to-engage client and wondering where to go next, I will remember that glaring young man and simply be present.

Dawn Ferrara is a counselor in private practice and clinical manager for a community-based children’s mental health program. Her areas of interest include disaster mental health counseling, lifestyle management, and counselor wellness.

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