Stop Taking Your Client's Problems Home With You

Taking your clients’ problems home with you is bad for you. It may not even be the best way to help them get better. Here’s why.

Kayla is depressed. She has been in therapy with you for a few months. At first she seemed to make progress. She got a new job and started dating a seemingly nice guy. But lately she’s been in a nose dive. She struggles to get out of bed in the morning. She talks of chucking the job and breaking up. In session, she insistently asks you what to do, yet doesn’t take up your suggestions. You’ve tried most of what you know, to no avail. She seems rudderless. You worry she might drop out or worse… You often catch yourself thinking about how to help her solve her problems.

People like Kayla come to therapy with their most intractable problems. And they naturally expect us to solve them. They want to stop feeling or thinking a certain way, stop engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, or stop the cycle of failed relationships.

It’s only natural to see Kayla’s problems as yours to solve. Aren’t you supposed to be an expert? While not often mentioned in polite society, research tells us that many therapists get sucked into their clients’ problems. This can lead to burnout or compassion fatigue. But if you burnout, who can you help?

There is a solution — but it may surprise you. Imagine you stopped playing the expert and adopted a position of radical equality that allowed you to let go of trying to solve intractable problems. How would you feel if you were someone’s problem? How do you think our clients feel when they sense they have become problems to solve?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) sees mental suffering as a product of normal — not pathological — human functioning. Inner experiences: thoughts, emotions and memories, no matter how painful, aren’t problems to solve. They are best approached and held with flexibility, kindness and compassion. Research suggests that ACT may help protect you from burnout, increase client satisfaction and reduce drop out.

ACT offers concrete tools to help make space for all we feel and think and gently turn toward our values. ACT processes apply to us as much as to our clients. Through mindfulness and acceptance, ACT helps you turn toward your own values — your work, family, fun and self-care. With ACT you can become a guide rather than a problem-solver. And stop taking your clients’ problems home with you.

At the Contextual Psychology Institute, we are therapists who have developed an internationally recognized way to make ACT simple and intuitive for you and your clients. Click here to download our free Six Steps to Flexibility E-book with concrete strategies you can start using right away!