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The Client Centered Approach

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

The topic of the client centered approach has come up a lot in the last few months. At MST, we always strive to provide adequate and transparent service. We welcome questions about our practice and have information about our clinicians' readily available on our website. Any clinician who is providing counselling or social service work must be licensed and insured with a RECOGNIZED governing body within the province of Ontario.

Of course, no human being is perfect. We will all stumble at times regardless of how long we have been in practice. But in order to have a licence (in our case, with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers) there are credentials that the practitioner must obtain and rules they must follow to be allowed to practice. This is what sets a licensed counsellor or social worker apart from a "life coach" or other titles used by many unregulated individuals after obtaining a certificate from an unrecognized organization.

Such certificates provided by something like a weekend course is not comparable to the education and code of ethics subscription required by a licensing board. It is important that we draw awareness to this issue to inform our (often vulnerable) clients.

Most forms of therapy or counselling have had a bad reputation for years. The vision of Mainstream Therapy is to de-stigmatize the therapy and healing process for all by making therapy and counselling a normal part of life.

I understand that many people (including myself) have not had the best experiences with therapy in the past. I am not here to dishonour that. I am here though to empower you to make informed choices about who you get to work with. This is part of the client centered approach.

As a client, you should be able to ask questions about the person you are working with. Asking about a provider's experience, credentials or approach to therapy should not be a taboo subject. An ill-prepared or unregulated provider is far more at risk of putting a client in harms way or acting unethically as they are not bound by the regulations required for licensing.

Most people are coming into counselling or therapy as a last resort because they just don’t know what to do next. We are vulnerable and often desperate for change. Part of being human is a need for belonging. Naturally, clients in this frame of mind could be more easily take advantage of; especially as the position of therapist is typically one that comes with inherent trust or privacy. Feeling an interpersonal connection with the provider is essential, but not the only requirement for a successful therapeutic relationship.

While there are no right or wrong questions to ask the person you will be working with, I have come up with some simple suggestions to ensure your therapist will be using a client centered approach.

First, I think it’s important to discuss two processes in the counselling relationship that inevitably we will encounter; transference and counter-transference. In case you have not heard of this before, let's recap.

Transference in therapy is the act of a client unknowingly transferring their feelings from another person to the therapist. Often this person is from their past. For example, a client who has unresolved emotions about their mother may transfer some feelings about her onto their therapist unknowingly, simply because they are reminded of her in some way. It could be with the therapists appearance (e.g the same colour hair) or their demeanor (e.g they use similar mannerisms when speaking). The transference can be positive or negative. Counter transference works the opposite way, in which the therapist transfers feelings towards their client. Seeking supervision from a mentor qualified for supervision is how a regulated provider reduces harm to their clients. Unregulated coaches may not held to the same standard so it’s important to know that you get to ask questions.

It is important to have a conversation about these dynamics should they come up. The client should be welcome to address their counsellor, and the counsellor should seek supervision with a colleague or mentor to discuss. Most importantly, the client is the vulnerable person in the relationship and it is absolutely imperative that their well-being and experience is protective.

The possibilities are endless in terms of the discussions you can have with your provider both before and during your work. The following are some examples that came to mind for me.

What is your self-care routine?

I met someone yesterday who asked me what I do for a living and I responded I work in mental health. She said with genuine concern "how are you?". With a smile I confidently replied I am doing very well. I went on to share my experience as a spiritual therapist. I shared with her that I have a daily routine of self-care and spiritual connection. I shared with her the importance it is for me to build the container of who I am so I can hold space for others. Working from a space of depletion is a nonnegotiable for me.

I feel it is absolutely vital for a client to be able to ask the person they are working with if they have a self-care routine. We can be really good at asking questions to help clients explore but to truly be authentic and genuine we must practice what we are teaching in the counselling rooms. Now we don’t need to go into full detail about our self care routine but I do believe it’s vital that every person containing space for a vulnerable person to heal must have a self-care routine.

Do you have supervision at your practice?

I am always honoured when somebody chooses Mainstream Therapy as a place to work. Truth be told, if somebody hasn’t sought out counselling in their own life and they are apply for a position, my redirection to them is to go through the process of healing and come back to me at a later date.

I believe the whole world would benefit from entering a therapeutic relationship, I also might be a bit biased after all I do believe it is my divine purpose to humanity.

It is not very often that I take a break from the healing process. Whether I am reading a book, working in a group, or actively pursuing one on one. As a licensed practitioner we have an obligation to participate in supervision at least once a month. "Supervision" does not mean we are reporting to a boss, but that as therapists we are getting advice or input on our practice and methods by colleagues, usually within a group setting. We also have the opportunity to debrief internally with our own team to ensure our mental and emotional wellness.

Personally my goal to become enlightened, therefore I choose to continue growing by working with someone one to one. This is not and essential part to being a healthy practitioner, although it helps. What is essential though in my opinion is that whomever is holding space for you takes an active role in processing their emotions, coming to terms with traumas in the past, and actively working on their own professional and personal growth.

How do your beliefs affect your work?

This question may evoke strong emotions and I won’t discuss controversial topics but let’s face it, we all know that they exist. As a paying client you get to determine if another's beliefs infringe on your relationship. This does not offend us if you need someone who agrees with a controversial issue.

When working with other clinicians I often share that remaining in emotion of neutrality is one of the keys I have found to help me be successful in working with people. Although I can acknowledge that controversial beliefs that exist, remaining neutral has provided me with the ability to hold space for people when they have a strong attachment to their beliefs with no judgment.

All that being said your counsellor may choose to state that they are an objective party to help you process the inner systems of your world and that they follow an ethical practice in guideline to ensure their beliefs don’t impede the therapeutic relationship. After all healthy people can hold different beliefs and allow it not to affect the relationship.

What can I do if I feel uncomfortable in a session?

There might definitely be a time in session when you don’t feel comfortable. A dialogue with a counsellor may go somewhere that you’re not ready to talk about, the therapist may ask you to do an activity that you don’t particularly enjoy, or you may feel like they are judging you.

You get to bring this up and talk about it. I remember in session one time I asked the client if they would feel comfortable doing an activity. They told me “no“. It was great to experience this with this person. Truth be told I am not the greatest artist and when I am asked to draw something it irritates me, you can’t imagine how I felt in Art Therapy.

There are many forms of therapeutic processes that we can use but it is important for you to know that you get to bring your voice in this therapeutic process as well. I find it really important to have these types of conversations when the therapeutic relationship begins. I often say that it is my responsibility to attune to the relationship but people come with coping strategies they’ve used for years and as a society we’re really good at hiding our truth. If at any time The session is moving to a place that makes you uncomfortable, remember you get to bring your voice.

You get to ask questions. You get to be in empowered. You get to have a voice in your own healing journey.

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