There are so many pressing concerns on my mind right now. Will Dr. Animal kibosh Jelly’s dream of becoming a companion dog because of her aging body (and howling and food-theft potential)? Will I pass screening to volunteer at Canadian Blood Services? Will it rain on the Pride Parade this weekend like it does every year? And how did two garlic bulbs end up in my shopping cart when I only remember selecting one?
But the issue at the forefront of my mind is, in a city of over a million people, how do I bump into former clients so often? What are the chances? It’s been a summer of unexpected encounters all over the place.
What was I trained to do in these situations? If I’m seeing a client and know we’ll cross paths at a specific event, we can discuss it ahead of time and come up with a plan. But usually this isn’t the case. I’m seeing so few clients that most often preplanning is out.
At psychology school, I learned to leave it up to the client. If the client feels comfortable approaching me, I will respond and take time to chat. I’m always pleased when a client feels she can say hello. Enlisting a helping professional shouldn’t breed shame, so a former client’s willingness to reconnect tells me that person feels okay that we’ve met.
I learned not ask anything too heavy in these encounters, like: “Did you excise that toxic friend from your life?” “Have you left your abusive marriage?” Or, “How’s your gambling addiction these days?” Rather, I may ask how the kids are or how the new job is working out.
I also won’t say: “You sound (or look) like a mess. Here’s my card. You should book in.” That would clearly be overstepping bounds. If that person needs to reconnect, he knows how to reach me. Rarely, a chance meeting has prompted a client to return for a spell.
The hardest chance meetings are those where the client is obviously uncomfortable. He may avoid eye contact or run in the other direction upon seeing me. There’s nothing I can do to take that discomfort away, other than respecting that person’s need to maintain distance. It’s pretty natural for some clients to feel uneasy in these situations because they’ve shared such private concerns in our time together. I wish they didn’t feel that way but I understand why they might. I might feel the same way were I in their shoes.
In fact, I was in their shoes recently: J. and I bumped into my therapist and her husband earlier this summer. I’ll admit I felt a bit self-conscious, especially because I was dressed like such a shlump. (Note to self: You never know who you might meet when you go out, so dress accordingly.) I appreciated our chance encounter, and my therapist, appropriately, didn’t skip a beat. I haven’t seen her for some time, so now she knows I’m still alive. That’s something, isn’t it? Next time I happen upon her in the community, I imagine I’ll find it easier, and no doubt I’ll be better dressed.