Working as a self-employed therapist or counsellor, you don’t have the same support structures as there might be within an organisation. Most counselling centres will have small numbers of people, and are unlikely to have security staff. In fact, you may be the only person working on the premises. This is also the case when you work from home.
It’s hard to tell in an initial session with a client whether they might become volatile at some stage, or whether they are prone to acting out their anger. Bear in mind too, that even if the client themselves is non-threatening, there may be people in the client’s life who may pose a risk to you, such as a family member or partner who doesn’t like what your client is doing.
Incidences of therapists and counsellors being threatened or attacked are rare, and it’s important not to focus too keenly on something that will probably never happen. However, there are certain sensible precautions that you can take. As the old proverb goes, “Trust in Allah, and tie up your camel!”
Here are some tips:
- Set an intention to work in safety. Be clear about what this means for you.
- When client makes initial contact, ask the client to tell you briefly what their presenting issue is. They may or may not tell you enough to judge, but listen to your felt response. This will tell you whether the client is likely to be a good match for you.
- Make first time appointments and assessments for day time, or a time when others are around.
- If your workplace is located in an isolated place, you might be better carrying out assessments elsewhere, such as a serviced office which can be rented on an hourly basis.
- In an assessment, again, listen to your felt response. If you are uneasy about working with a client, even if you can’t explain it rationally, you might be better referring the client on to another practitioner. If you are unsure, be slow to commit to a long term arrangement. Opt instead for a short term contract of, say, three weeks. Be up front with the client about this. “I’m not sure whether I’m the best person to work with you on this. Let’s give it a couple of weeks and we can discuss then how it’s working for both of us.”
- If you work on your own, or if it’s not possible for others to be around, create some low, background noise, such as a radio or electrical device. This gives the impression that there are others around.
- If you work alone, make sure someone knows where you are, and what time you are expected home.
Ideally, if you work with clients who have a history of violence or abuse, do so when others are around. This provides a sense of security, even if the others would be of no practical help!
Think about the practical aspects of your workplace:
- Park in a well lit area.
- If there are lights over the entrance way, and in the halls, keep them on during client hours.
- Sit between your client and the door, so that you have an unimpeded exit route.
- If possible, choose a room that is close to the front door, preferably on the ground floor.
If you are expecting a particularly difficult session with a client, spend time preparing in advance. Do a grounding exercise. Visualising how you would like the session to go helps to pre-pave the energy you’ll bring with you. When I find myself intimidated by someone, I like the trick of imagining them sitting opposite me, and visually shrinking them in size (a bit like Alice in Wonderland) till they’re about 4 inches tall. This enhances confidence and reminds us of our own resources.
Work closely with your supervisor about these issues.
Finally, remember you do have a choice about who you work with. It may be that some clients are better off being dealt with within an organisational setting rather than in private practice. Don’t be afraid to say that it’s not right for you. The work will suffer if you are so nervous with a client that you cannot be present.
If I can can help with any aspect of running your practice, please contact me here for an appointment, or to avail of a free 20 minute consultation.