As a counsellor, you will inevitably come across difficult clients in your career and will need to deal with them appropriately. When you do come across such a client, it is important to keep in mind the client’s background, their thoughts and attitude towards counselling, and if they have issues such as anger. A client’s anger may also be due to frustration at themselves and their issues, and counsellors should be aware that what could come across as rudeness could be the client expressing their feelings about themselves.
Whatever the case may be, counsellors should be prepared to deal with different types of challenging clients that include, complainers, pessimists, clients that are silent and not forthcoming, and aggressive people. In the event of an escalating situation with a very aggressive client, ensure you feel as safe as possible by taking precautionary measures. If you are in a position where you are working with clients who are at risk of becoming or being challenging, then it is important you have your own safety in mind with suitable strategies and risk management procedures in your practice or workplace in case a difficult situation arises. If you work within an organisation, it is essential you make yourself aware of the established procedures and protocols for dealing with complaints, risk, and crisis.
You should consider the following if a difficult situation arises with a client:
- Have emergency numbers clearly displayed and ready to dial if need be.
- If you have concerns about a client, make another staff member aware of them and be clear on what you expect of them. If you work alone then it is best to see the client when someone else can be in the office.
- If you are anticipating a problem or confrontation, have a colleague in the room with you.
- You can choose to stop the counselling to excuse yourself and leave the room.
- Keep your door open during the session and position yourself closer to it.
- Be conscious of your personal safety and the information you disclose about yourself.
When a client is being challenging, take personal responsibility for your actions, stay professional and maintain your composure even if the client is not doing the same. Remember to:
- Be calm and don’t respond with your own anger and aggression
- Consider the needs of the client and be aware of situations and statements that could cause them to become more aggressive
- Continue to be respectful, friendly, helpful, and attentive
- Be empathetic and non-judgemental
- Know your limits as a counsellor and stay in your scope of practice