Common Errors

Projecting—if you have a common issue or experience, assuming that your client’s experience is the same as yours rather than listening from the client’s point of view.

Closed question—killing the conversation and usually changing the topic

Asking too many questions in one response—the client doesn’t know which one to answer

Not allowing for silence—responding quickly because you want to say something or you’re afraid to experience some silence. Take a moment before speaking to be more certain the client is finished speaking, and wait until she looks back at you.

Interrupting the client

With what the counselor wants to say—difficulty with inhibition

By finishing the client’s sentence

Lots of content reflections without feelings—explore reasons for avoiding emotions

Fear of the client losing control

Unable to see one’s own feelings, and therefore hard to see the client’s feelings

Devaluing feelings in general

Client seems to avoid exposing feelings

Focusing on the positive: in other words, when the client tells you what’s good and bad, reflecting only on the good—not therapeutic unless in later sessions usually

Wanting to solve the problem too quickly—getting solution oriented in the first session is usually premature. If you can solve it in an hour, then the client probably will be able to solve it himself. Most people bring a symptom of a larger problem to the session; so be mindful to discover the problem rather than fixing the symptom. Also, doing this can take power away from the client, implying that the client isn’t smart enough to figure the problem out. Also, sometimes we just want to show that we’re wise, so be mindful that you’re not doing that either.

Maintaining an agenda—sometimes we get an idea in our head that we think is brilliant, and the client isn’t biting. This means either that we’re wrong, or the client isn’t ready. Either way, give it up, let it go. Let the client lead. It’s important to respect the client’s experience whether you see it differently or not, most of the time.

Therapist speaks more than the client—while this can happen in some later sessions; usually, you want the client to do the majority of the talking in the first sessions. Your goal as therapist is to understand, listen, and show empathy through reflections in order to establish a collaborative and trusting relationship. Sometimes, clients don’t even bring their real issues up for a few weeks because they don’t feel safe in early sessions.

Depersonalizing feeling reflections (it must be hard, that’s sad)—takes power away from the client to change it, whereas if you personalize the feeling (you struggle with that, or you’re sad), then the client can fully own and feel the emotion and move past it.

Reflecting the feelings or motivations of a person not in the room—reflect your client’s feelings. You can’t give empathy to someone who isn’t there, first of all. Secondly, you are only hearing the client’s perception of the other person. Be really clear about that because sometimes, or often, if you bring that other person in the room, everything looks a lot different. Sometimes the ‘other person’ is nothing like the client described.

Reflecting feelings in the past—while this isn’t harmful, it doesn’t establish real empathy which is indicating to the client that you see her clearly, in the moment. We all want to be seen and understood, and that’s done best by reflecting feelings you see in the moment. In addition, you can keep the conversation in the past, which cannot be changed. It’s better to talk about how the client feels now, in the moment, about that past situation, and how it’s inhibiting him or her now.

Not sitting with silence—sometimes when a client speaks about a recent loss, whether to a break up or a job or a death, just crying is needed. You don’t need to say anything. They simply need a safe place to let out all their pain without anyone stopping them or worrying about them. Allow your clients to mourn when a new loss happens in their lives. Finally, when your client cries, she is getting rid of stress hormones, cortisol in particular, which can only come out through tears and sweat, and the tears from cutting onions doesn’t count; it’s made up of different stuff. So, cry often and sweat often. You’ll feel less stressed!

Use of voice—you want to make sure that your voice matches the content of the situation. Joining the client in nervous laughter helps them stay out of their feelings, not that laughter is bad. Sometimes it’s needed, especially when we see the absurdity of ourselves. However, most of the time, many clients use laughter to avoid feelings. Along with this, the client’s voice may not match the topic. Make yours match. Slow down your rate of speech and you slow the client down. Soften your voice when they cry. Sound angry and loud when you reflect anger. Reflecting feelings isn’t just the words you choose, but the voice and facial expressions that match it. That feels far more empathic to the client.