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Jun 06, 2013

Life Lessons From My Clients

I graduated a few short weeks ago and finished up my clinical hours. Although I miss my clients and my coworkers, my new-found free time has enabled me to pick up a few things I had missed during the past year, like writing in my own blog and reading books. My free time has also allowed me to process the learning experiences of the past year--and holy cow, there were quite a few!

I completed my master’s internship at a residential facility. I never expected to intern at this type of facility, but I never would have grown as much personally if I hadn’t. I mean the following with no disrespect: My clients were challenging on the best days. I hung on every day and hoped that if I couldn’t help them make huge personal changes, I could at least provide a safe, dependable relationship that could get them thinking about positive changes.

A relationship works two ways, and so I definitely learned from my clients as well.   I quickly learned not to take much personally--a lesson I’ve struggled with for years. In my setting, I could more easily see that actions like a client blowing off appointments reflected her own issues and had nothing to do with me. This understanding transferred into my job and personal life, meaning that I try to look at outside factors when someone acts in a less-than-savory manner towards me. Sometimes it IS me--and many times, it isn’t.

Whether my clients liked it or not (and some didn’t), they were all survivors, having lived through some dark, dark days. I had some bad personal news not a week after my graduation, and currently find myself thinking of certain clients as I try to adjust to this news. For one thing, the clients I admire show resiliency. They just keep trying, plain and simple, even with so many things working against them. In addition, my clients--almost unilaterally--have vast amounts of faith. Religion differs, but they rely on faith in a higher power to pull them through each and every day. The day after finding out my bad news, I thought of my clients and scheduled a chat with my pastor. I’d never done that before. If faith can get my clients through their struggles, it can get me through mine.

And last, I got to see firsthand that change is possible. For all of the daily frustrations, I also witnessed clients doing incredible things: meeting goals, finding jobs, graduating the program, and living successfully on their own. I met alums who had finished the program decades ago and who have maintained independence since then. Incredible things also include tiny, seemingly inconsequential things--a client remembering how to use a computer mouse correctly as we worked on job applications, or a client talking about wellness weeks after a group discussion.

My internship had its frustrations and pitfalls, but in the end, it was exactly where I needed to be. I don’t think I could have grown as much in any other setting. My future as a counselor and client will continue to build on these lessons, and I look forward to seeing what lessons I will add as a new professional.

Kristen Eckhardt is a new graduate from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, currently living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Read more about her experiences and her takes on counseling issues at

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