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Back to Basics: The Importance of Meeting Client’s Where They Are

“Meet the client where they are.” I heard this all the time in my MSW classes. To be honest, I thought, “yeah, simple, I can do that.” Yet, it is more difficult than one might think.

I Don’t Think I’m Alone in These Experiences:

When we are told to stick to an evidence-based practice, it can feel like we need to carry out our agenda. It is hard to balance when to just be there with the client and when to introduce a coping skill or challenge a thought. Sometimes it is black & white, and sometimes it is gray.

Maybe we’re stressed (maybe adapting to a stay-at-home order or just any rough time), and we become a little less sensitive to subtle signs of disengagement.

Perhaps, the client challenges us like never before. Maybe they just stump us, and we want to say the perfect thing or the thing that would help them right there in the moment.

Why Meeting the Client Where They Are Is My Greatest Lesson This Year So Far

I have struggled with these experiences this year. My supervisor helped me realize different ways to engage my clients and avoid pushing my evidence-based practices. Along with her help, here are some other experiences that helped me just be there with my clients:

Earlier this year, a guest speaker told a story in which another social worker complained about a new client. I won’t tell the whole story, but he asked the social worker: “do you know if the child ate any food today?” The social worker wasn’t seeing the signs that the client may have been hungry, not necessarily just unable to sit still and focus.

To be very honest, the stay-at-home order and moving to telehealth hurt my engagement with clients. During a group meeting, another intern spoke about just talking to clients about their experiences. I was checking in with clients, but I needed to really dive in. (Even if that meant I didn't make an active effort to implement a billable intervention.) Amazingly, I had some of the best conversations with my clients the next week.

I also feel inclined to recommend this book: Power, Resistance and Liberation in Therapy with Survivors of Trauma (Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.) The author speaks about clients and their power. In one chapter, she argues that resistance to treatment is them exercising their power. I say this because, when worried about sticking to an evidenced-based practice, I could have failed in putting my clients’ needs first.

Things to Think About (A Note to Myself)

  1. Are your client’s basic needs met?

  2. What are they feeling and thinking? Sit in that for a while if they can. 

  3. Before you teach a client a new skill, did you check to see if they already built that skill? (ie maybe they already know breathing techniques) 

  4. Similarly, before you teach a new technique, have you tried building an effective one they already have? You can do both, but maybe build on their strengths first.

  5. Were you listening completely or were you thinking of your next step?

Maybe if you're reading this, you don't need this message. But if this resonates with you, I hope it only encourages you.

Please leave comments, and please let me know what kind of articles you’d like to see in the future! Check me out on Instagram @eagersocialworker for post updates!

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