By David Joel Miller.
Does my counselor like me? Why won’t they say they like me?
Counselors are reluctant to tell clients they like them and for some very good reasons. Most of the time I do like the clients I work with, but there are lots of reasons I don’t say so.
1. We want the client to learn to like themselves.
Many clients report they have “low self-esteem.” As often as I hear that expression you would think it was a specific diagnosis. It isn’t.
One reason for this low self-esteem problem is that too often all of us are looking to outside things to establish our self-esteem. If you need someone, anyone, to tell you that they like you, then your self-worth is dependent on doing and saying things so they will like you. This is a risky place to be.
I do not tell the client I like them. Most of the time I do not encourage them to even worry about what other people think about them. There is a huge danger in basing your self-worth on ratings or others opinions.
It is worthwhile to watch and see how you are affecting others. We call this self-monitoring. If lots of people are getting irritated with you, then you may need to take a look at yourself and see what you might improve. What you do not need to do is base your self-worth on what they think. Improve what you can and accept the parts of you that you can’t change.
What I do tell a client is that I think they are worthwhile people. They are the unique them just like everyone else on earth is a unique person. They do not need to do or be anything to be worthwhile. What they need to do is to do those things that will make them happy and that they can be proud of. If they do estimable things they can feel good about themselves regardless of what others think about them.
2. Counselors should not foster dependency.
Counseling is a helping relationship. It is not helping when someone else does everything for you. Rather than doing for clients we want to teach them to do for themselves.
Rather than being in need of a friend, which increases the risk of becoming a needy person, you should become your own best friend. Once you learn to like yourself, you will find that you are much more likable to others.
Coming every week to see you counselor for another booster shot of self-esteem is not the same thing as recovering from whatever you chose to call your problem.
3. You need to develop an outside support system.
Counselors are professional people but we can’t be there every hour of every day. Yes, professionals are a part of a person’s support system, but we should not be the whole thing.
If you are in recovery, and who among us is not recovering from something or someone, you need a strong support system that is positive and in your corner.
There are a few people who have become conditioned to use the psychiatric hospital and professional therapists as their one and only support. They are sometimes surprised to find they do not have to go on doing that forever.
Having a positive friend you can call in the evening before bedtime or when you are feeling a little low, beats the heck out of having to call the psych hospital every night before bed for some reassurance.
Providers who create peer lines, places people with problems can call and talk to other peers, find there are more people who can function without needing psychiatric hospitals. Those communities that rely on hospitals to provide all the services need more hospital beds.
Peers are an important part of the recovery process.
4. There is a danger of developing a second or dual relationship.
The counseling relationship is special. It should not get mixed up with any other relationship. Counselors who forget those boundaries are at risk to get into friendship, financial or even romantic relationships with their clients. That is very likely to harm the client.
If someone says they like you there is that natural tendency to say you like them back. For a week or vulnerable person, there is the risk of trying to feel that way even if that is not how you really feel. The net result is an unwanted unprofessional relationship.
These second or dual relationships harm clients and they can cost counselors their licenses. Best to avoid this from the start.
Hope that explains this odd behavior we counselors feel obligated to observe with our clients.
David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
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