The Three Types of Client-Therapy Relationships

In the ideal world, our clients would all be cooperative and open to change, but let’s be realistic; the therapy world does not work that way. On any given day we can see a mixture of clients. Some of our clients can come to us and have no problems talking to us about what is going on in their lives and work with the therapist to correct those issues. Other clients we see may be reluctant to talk or work with the therapist to figure out solutions to their problems. And then, of course, you have clients who you see that are in that in between phase where it seems that all they do is complain about what is going on around them.

Insoo Kim Berg and colleagues would say that clients are a visitor, a complainant or a customer when they come to therapy. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to invite the late Insoo Kim Berg to Pittsburgh several times to train our Family Services staff in solution focused methods. She emphasized the categories below as useful especially when serving mandated clients

Visitors– These are individuals who come to therapy because someone else feels that they have a problem, and they may not agree that they have a problem. These individuals are not likely to engage in the therapy process and don’t seem to be motivated to make a change.

Complainants– This client is able to express that there is a problem. However, they do not see themselves as part of the problem and do not take a role in seeking out a solution. They expect the therapist to change the individual(s) that they complainant attributes the problem to. A complainant typically views themselves as a victim of their problems.

Customers– This is the ideal client. This client is someone who works with the therapist to identify the problem and the solution. They understand that a personal effort, on their part, is needed in order to reach their desired outcome. It is clear to observe that these individuals are highly motivated and fully engaged in the therapy process.

When you begin working with a client, it is important to assess which of these they may be, and determine how you will begin to work with them. How you begin work with a visitor will be much different than how you will begin work with a customer. For instance, with a visitor you will be more interested in educating them about the process and getting them to feel comfortable meeting with you. Whereas with a customer, you will be able to build rapport much more quickly and begin working on the change process.  If your client is not a customer, you want to begin looking at what would it take to get the client to transform from either the visitor or complainant relationship to the customer relationship.

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