Getting Started with a new Client? Focus on Empathy and Psycho education

Elizabeth Spencer

I love the success stories my clients share with me. I feel joy seeing a client move from living a life painfully limited by anxiety to a rich, full life. When I start with a new client at a first session, I know that is possible for this client, too – but here is the key! The client does not know that. At all. That is why they are seeing me, of course. They feel so stuck and hopeless. Giving in to anxiety and giving up their life is the only success they have had, and it is no kind of success at all. It is a trap.

This moment with clients is the toughest for me as a therapist. I want so badly to move them forward and see the success I know they can have! Any therapist who has moved too fast with a client knows what a pitfall it can be. To get that client starting to take the first steps moving toward getting well, empathy and psycho education are keys.

Empathy conveys to your client that you get how much they are suffering, that you see how hard they are working and how bad life is. I say to therapists I train that this is where having had your own struggle with anxiety can really help you build a good therapeutic relationship with your client. No need to share your own struggle! Simply use how bad it felt to you and use words and connect with your client and their suffering. “It sounds like you feel trapped in your life with that much anxiety.” “That must have been horrible.” “I hear you saying you can’t even find words to explain how terrifying your panic attacks are for you.” Anxiety is horribly painful. Therapists who can acknowledge that with their clients will go a long way to building a good relationship to begin the work to get well.

Pyscho education helps clients understand the brain trick that anxiety is playing on them, and provides the important basis for ERP. Read more about phycho education in our post here.

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