I have two real-live clients this week. Two hours to be a bona fide psychologist. Two people who I have the potential to help (or harm, if I mess up). That’s a lot of responsibility.
Sometimes I’m well aware that my clients are doing all the work. They know what they need to do, they just need the occasional reminder. Take one of my recent clients, who came in for help with anxiety. He was going to be late for this week’s session, so he emailed earlier that day to inform me. What a brilliant solution, I thought: this way, I’d know he’d be late, and I wouldn’t fret about it. Also, he wouldn’t be stressed by his delay.
I was struck by this client’s problem solving in this situation. He anticipated something that might cause him anxiety and preempted it altogether. When he arrived, I commended him for dealing with his tardiness proactively. Many times over the course of our contact, this client has shown me that he will act to reduce his stress rather than raising it through avoidance. Way to go, buddy.
As an anxious person myself, I often forget to apply the same principles in my own life. I’ll put off the letter I need to write or the phone call I need to make if I’m nervous about what to say. If I am going to be late for an appointment, I am more likely to become stressed than to notify the person who will be waiting for me. I may avoid situations that cause me anxiety, even though I’m well aware I’ll feel better as soon as I act. I have to make a conscious effort not to do things that cause me to worry more.
My years of personal experience have taught me that overcoming anxiety is hard work. It takes awareness and vigilance and, for people like me, even a bit of therapy. I may deal with my stress more effectively than I used to when I was younger, yet I am not anxiety free. My goal is to ensure my worries do not interfere with my living my life fully. I have the same goal for my worry-prone clients.
At the end of the session, I asked this client whether he wanted to rebook. I had the feeling he’d say no, since he’d come so far with such little help from me, and he was effectively applying so much of what he’d learned. He chose not to set another appointment. (Insert sad-face emoji here.) We left the door open, as I always do.
Then, as he was leaving, he gave me the dreaded termination talk. I know this talk well. He said, “Thanks for being my cheering section.” I responded, “You’ve given me a lot to cheer about.” It’s a variation on the you’ve-helped-me-so-much theme. (Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true.) Expressing gratitude this way seems easier than saying, “I no longer need your help.” This fellow certainly doesn’t, or at least not right now. And so another one bites the dust, but in a good way.