When was the last time you were completely stumped by a question, a request, or a situation you found yourself in? How did you handle it?
Sometimes a therapist gets a client that just isn’t a good fit. This has happened to me maybe a handful of times in the 13+ years that I’ve been in practice. Most recently, the poor fit was with a couple, married for nearly 20 years, two little kids, and absolutely no communication skills.
She can’t be quiet, and he can’t string three words together in her presence.
I really tried. God knows I gave them the best of everything I’ve learned, everything I know about what God’s Word says , all the practical experience of my own 45 years of mostly happy marriage. I taught them tools like Active Listening, worked with them in session, gave them assignments to do at home. We made lists, we made charts. I took them through exercises like, “It hurts me when you________________.” We talked about the biblical position of the husband and the wife; of the need to establish some kind of family Bible time; of the importance of having discussions in front of and with their children about spiritual matters.
Still, every week when they came into the office, they were angry. It was always the other person’s fault. One night, after playing referee to yet another pointless squabble, I held up my hands and said, STOP!” They both were so startled that it shut them both up. What a blessed relief.
“Look, it’s very clear to me that I’m not helping you. As far as I can see, not one single thing has changed since the first night you came to me. You haven’t followed through on anything I’ve asked you to do. You are still griping at each other about the exact same things as you were five months ago. I warned you two weeks ago that if I didn’t see some kind of positive forward movement, I was going to terminate counseling and suggest you find someone else that you will work with more effectively. The time has come. I’m done. I have nothing more to say, nothing to offer you. I’ve pulled out everything I have in my bag of tricks. So this is our final session.
The were visibly upset, and so was I. I hate feeling I’ve let my clients down. They come to me for help, and usually I can give them what they’re seeking. Not this time. I do believe I did what I had to do, and I’m praying that whoever they go to next will be more effective with them than I was.
And now here’s the clincher. My supervisor, when i told him I’d fired my clients, looked surprised. He had sent them to me, he told me, because he figured I would be the ONE who could get through to them if anyone could because of my tendency to go straight to the point and not dance around issues. Made me feel a little better to know I wasn’t the first therapist who had struck out with that couple!