Many times, a life challenge your clients are facing will feel so devastating or all-consuming that they can’t work productively with you. When this happens, it’s not enough to listen empathetically. In order to help these clients overcome their difficulty, you need to be a source of advice, information and referrals.
When you show your willingness to assist them with overwhelming challenges, I wager your clients will be surprised and grateful. The broader the support you provide, the deeper your relationship can become. Here are some examples of ways to go beyond your areas of expertise and tap outside networks of support to deal with client issues around addiction, debilitating illness, aging and parenting.
Q: My clients have an out-of-control teenage daughter who steals money, bullies other kids and sneaks out to be with her drug-dealer boyfriend. Her parents have tried everything, but I think their only hope is shaking her out of her routine. What could I suggest?
A: When close friends of mine had a daughter in similar trouble, they found a wilderness program that enabled her to get her bearings far from her usual bad influences. They then enrolled her in a nature-oriented private school to reinforce her progress. I’m pleased to say that the girl recently graduated from college near the top of her class and seems headed for a bright future.
Second Nature Wilderness Programs provides well-regarded therapy programs for preteens through adults in Utah, Oregon and Georgia. You might also advise your clients to look into Innercept in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a residential program that combines therapy and academics for struggling adolescents and young adults.
For clients facing parenting problems, I would also suggest printing out some recent articles from the award-winning Psychotherapy Networker magazine. PN’s January/February 2012 issue contains a number of useful articles for the layperson as well as the clinician.
In the same issue, an article by Dr. David Flohr titled “The ParentCircle” may help clients overcome feelings of disempowerment and frustration. Flohr suggests that parents join or create a support group through their place of worship or a community center. In this “parentcircle,” parents can help each other (sometimes coached by a therapist) and find resources to confront the challenges they’re facing with their children.
Developing a list of resources, including good adolescent and family therapists, will take some work. You’ll need to solicit names from colleagues and other professionals, then screen the resources they recommend. But despite the time it takes, it’s well worth the effort to be a valued go-to person for clients in need.
Q: My clients’ adult son has moved back home, and his alcoholism has disrupted the whole family. He denies that he’s addicted. What resources are available to help them?
A: Clients rocked by a family member’s addiction need all the help they can get. I suggest you have information from Alcoholics Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics on hand for when these situations arise. Of course, there are drug- and alcohol-addiction treatment centers all over the country that can assist addicts once they are ready to get help.
However, an intervention may be necessary to open the eyes of an addict in denial. One expert who has been highly recommended to me is Florida-based Randi Coleman, an interventionist and consultant specializing in addictions.
You might also tell your clients that you are concerned about substance abuse and ask them about experts or programs in your area. By letting them know that you are pulling together this information for them and their families, you will signal that you care and want to help.