To see ourselves as clients see us

Therapists should be aware that clients may see them in a very different light. They should also be aware that these impressions are a matter of perspective and there may be fewer real differences than either therapist or client imagines.

Robert Burns wrote

Wad that God the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us

In principle we all have such a gift (except perhaps people with autism, but that’s another discussion). In practice, this gift tends to be underused, especially in the consulting room.

You know that the suit you’re wearing is your one and only: your client sees only a guy in a sharp suit. You know that you live in a bedsit. Your client imagines you live in a mansion. You know your bed is unmade and your fridge is empty. Your client imagines you’re a model of organisation. You know you argued with your husband last night. Your client imagines you never lose your temper.

The limited contact we have with clients permits us to present an image which might be unrecognisable (and frankly incredible!) to our friends and families. Professionalism requires clarity and composure which may seem unattainable to someone whose life is crumbling around them: little do they know that you can only keep it up for an hour at a time.

This is not to say that we should be regaling our clients with tales of our ineptitude and social inadequacy. Rather, we should not buy into our own publicity and see ourselves as being so very different from our clients. Sometimes it can be useful to be reminded of how we look from the other chair.

The following is the first few paragraphs of a reflection on the differences between clients and staff. The full text can be found here.

I am a resident. You reside.
I am admitted. You move in.
I have behavior problems. You are rude.
I am non-compliant. You don’t like being told what to do.
When I ask you out to dinner, it is an outing. When you ask someone out, it is a date.
I don’t know how many people have read the progress notes people write about me. I don’t even know what’s in there. You didn’t speak to your best friend for a month after she read your journal.

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