This blog post is a long time coming. It all started with a hater. Not a troll, but someone who looked at the surface of a few things I said, made some assumptions about me, fit that into her paradigm about therapy and therapists and let me have it. I’d had my share of haters by that point, but none that invested a ton of time in writing a diatribe of grievances about my character and the evil I was spreading in the world of counseling. At first I felt really misunderstood. I wanted to defend myself, to win her over, to have her see that we were probably on the same side of a lot of things and convince her that I was indeed a good person.
Instead I paused, reached out to an entrepreneur/therapist friend, Jane Carter. In a flurry of screenshots and text messages, a little adolescent angstiness and momentary defensive “what a bitch” venting, we realized an unsettling truth.
See, this hater had accused me of taking advantage of counseling clients by encouraging others to set what I would consider appropriate fees. She used words like “heartless egomaniacs” to describe people who set decent fees and “treating people like dirt,” “predatory” and “exploitation” to describe their behavior.
She talked a lot about “bilking vulnerable populations” and continued to focus on how pitiful clients were. My friend and I were struck by what counseling with someone who pitied us would feel like. We processed what it would be like to feel sorry for our clients instead of seeing their resilience, power, and value.
So, some advice
If you see your potential clients or clients as victims, as unable to make their own decisions, as people you have to baby and cater to in every way, you disempower them.
Create your private practice and what you want it to look like. It won’t work for some people and that’s ok. Really, it’s fine. There are other counselors they will be a good match with. Don’t fall into the trap of egotism that you’re the only one who can help folks.
Your practice will work beautifully for a number of people. They will rise to your boundaries or your fee or the hours you set and they will have made a powerful choice for their recovery. If you cave and agree to things that don’t work for you, you take away the client’s choice to commit to something that would up the ante for them (taking an extended lunch break to see you during daytime hours, paying your fee, not calling you each time they have big feelings).
Our clients are strong. They are resilient. They have power and agency. Give them a chance to discover that. Honor their experiences of victimization or discrimination but don’t collude with those experiences. Connect with your client’s ability to overcome the hardest parts.
So, I thank the woman Jane and I dubbed “Juicy Hater” for reminding me why I love my clients. Like all of us, they struggle with something, they have a lot to learn, they have a lot to give, they have incredible strength and vulnerability that leaves me in awe sometimes and makes me want to jump up and down at other times. I feel damn lucky to have careers that make a difference in people’s lives, careers I love.
How do you stay in touch with your clients’ resilience? What do you love about the work we get to do? Let us know in the comments!
Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.