3 Tips for Staying in the Present with Your Client Sessions
By Shannon Heers
One of the hardest things to do as a therapist is to stay with your clients where they are at during your sessions. You may find yourself getting ahead of where your client is at, or noticing that something is off during your session but you’re not sure why. Both of these could be signs that you are not fully present with your client.
And this happens often to therapists, no matter where you are in your development! Even advanced-level therapists get ahead of their clients or aren’t fully in the here-and-now during counseling sessions. But there are some things that you can do to mitigate this happening, and to encourage yourself to focus wholly on your client.
Here are three tips for staying present with your clients during therapy sessions:
Don’t Take Notes During Counseling Sessions
I know, I used to do this too. And maybe many of you take notes, too, during your individual sessions. How else are you going to remember everything the client says? Or recall what is going on from session to session.
Well, I would argue that the point is not to remember everything your client said during the session but for you to interact with your client in a way that makes them feel heard, and understood. Because that is where much of the healing in therapy comes in, within the therapeutic relationship.
It’s hard to build and grow the relationship between client and therapist when the therapist’s attention is pulled elsewhere. For example, if you are focused on writing a coherent sentence rather than attending to the client, your client will notice this. Whether consciously or unconsciously, there is a quick break in your therapeutic connection.
Staying focused on your client for the entirety of the session is hard to do, but it is easier to do if you’re not distracted by note taking. I always suggest that if you want to write down what was said during the session, that you end a few minutes early and jot down your recollections from the session at that time.
Identify the Emotions, Not the Content
It is so easy to get caught up in your client’s story. And it’s easy to go into problem-solving mode. But most of the time, that is not our role as a therapist. Anyone can give advice. But not anyone can do what you do, as a therapist.
If your client is showing or even identifying a particular emotion or feeling, that is your cue to pick up on it. If a client who is normally reticent starts to tear up in session, notice this! Point this out. Ask questions about it. “I noticed you had some emotion there. What was coming up for you?” is an easy way to be curious but not assume anything.
Clients tell us stories to provide context around their experiences. And their experiences are often emotionally laden. By pointing out, and sharing in, their emotional experiences, it will take you further than just responding to the content of the stories that they share. Perhaps healing can occur more quickly, and more effectively, this way.
Don’t Overthink! Connect Instead
One more thing that therapists tend to do that will take you away from the here-and-now during sessions, is that you overthink. Especially if you are working with intelligent clients, you may put pressure on yourself to come up with a “smart” answer or insight. But don’t get pulled in! Your strength lies in connecting.
Yes, it’s okay to come up with fantabulous paraphrases that move the conversation forward. It’s great to discover an insight that opens up a client and is an “ah ha” moment. However, you don’t have to do this all of the time. Shift your focus instead to connecting with your client in the moment, and you might find that wonderful insights and interventions occur naturally.
Dig into your basic counseling skills, and remember what you were taught in graduate school! Here are some quick ways to connect with your clients during sessions, whether they are in-person or virtual:
- Using nonverbal body language
- Eye contact, if appropriate to your client
- Exaggerated facial expressions
Remember working on all of these skills? Well, they don’t go out of style. I’d argue that these are the most effective skills you can hone as a counselor.
What do you think now, after reading this article? Are you willing to try some of these techniques to stay present and grounded with your clients? If you do, see if you notice a difference in your connection with your client, and even with your client retention.
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Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Firelight Supervision on Instagram and Facebook.