It’s quite a common and natural feeling considering you probably feel some pressure about it. Whether it’s because you have an expectation of yourself, or feel like you are of stepping into the unknown, seeing new clients is anxiety-provoking. I’m going to show you how you can get over that fear of seeing new clients.
Each time you meet with a new client it can feel like you’re starting all over again, because each client brings such a unique experience into the room. Part of your role is to discover that uniqueness because the last way you want to approach your clients is with a ho-hum, I-have-seen-this-before attitude. Even if all you are seeing is, for instance, acting out adolescents/teen rebellion, each adolescent will present with distinct personality traits and symptoms. Even if you arrive at similar diagnoses, how that presents in a client’s life will differ. Their history and life circumstances will vary quite a lot. So, keep in mind each person has a world unto themselves they may reveal at some point or another. Just as no two snowflakes are the same, neither are we as humans. Discovering this uniqueness is a foundation to the next tips.
So, five ways to help you get over your fear or nervousness of seeing clients is to:
- Shift your focus off yourself and your own nervousness and onto your client. If your heart is racing, or your hair isn’t looking right, your focus needs to move off yourself and on to the client. Try to refrain from thinking about having the right facial expressions or posture, or even posing the right questions. Sit back, relax and allow your body to move naturally, shifting positions, looking however you are going to look, and focus on what they are going through and want to share. How must he or she be feeling? What do you notice and pick up on? What do you find yourself naturally curious about, what feelings are conjured up in you that may relate to what they’re sharing with you? Allowing yourself to be immersed in the client’s experience will help relieve your fears, because your client needs you to focus on them and be a vessel to guide them where they need to go in their sharing and opening up, especially in the first sessions.
- Feel it and breathe through it. Even if you focus on your client, but you intermittently feel nervous or afraid, notice it and choose to let it go as you exhale. Intentionally breathe in by silently counting to yourself, 1, 2, 3, and then breathe out for 1, 2, 3 (for less than a minute). Still pay attention to your client but do this to get a hold of and to release the anxiety. It really does work! It’s a subtle enough tactic that they should not notice you are doing it. And, if you still feel nervous, just carry on anyway. You will get through the session and you will survive despite your anxious feelings. Most clients may not even notice you’re nervous, because they may be more concerned about what you are thinking of them. Give yourself some slack and realize you will become better at getting a handle on your anxiety. Being new at anything brings on a slew of potential issues, such as performance anxiety, wondering if you’re good enough, etc. So, simply breathe in 1,2, 3 and out 2, 3. There’s beauty in simplicity.
- As you are focusing on your client, try to put yourself in their shoes. Another word for this is empathize. As they’re disclosing what brings them to therapy or counseling, approach them from a place within you of seeking to understand where they are coming from and what it must be like for them. For instance, if a client tells you they have been having panic attacks at night which seem to come out of the blue waking them up from their sleep, ask questions and make empathic comments that show you are imagining what that must be like. Ask questions that would help you get a better understanding of what they are conveying. As you are seeking to understand more, you inevitably get out of your own personal problems and anxieties. Do not act as if you understand; truly seek to understand through your questions and comments.
- If possible, set the room up in a way that makes you feel calm and at ease. If you can have control over the lighting, make it lower than a typical fluorescent lighting. Lower lighting tends to calm the nerves and creates a warmer atmosphere. The one’s with a dimmer switch are best or plugging in a lamp in lieu of overhead lighting helps. You can bring in a basic lamp and use that. Have a comfortable chair and couch, preferably with pillows. A throw blanket and other cozy types of décor are also good. Granted, many sites don’t give you the flexibility to choose these items or bring them in, but you never know unless you ask. White noise machines are also handy for drowning out background noise and creating calm. Even essential oils or aromatherapy can help create a better sense of a therapy room where a client can kick up his feet and relax. Having bottled water or other niceties can also help. No matter what you can do to make the actual atmosphere more warm and relaxing, it will help you and your clients.
- Go into the session knowing there will be a beginning, middle and end. Having a clock or watch that you monitor every 10 to 15 minutes will give you a good balance between paying close attention to your client and immersing yourself in the moment while monitoring where you are at timewise. When you get about 25 minutes in, you know you’re halfway there and by 40 minutes in, you’re close to the finish line. No matter how bad your nerves are, going in to the session with the feeling like you will be able to handle it, because it is a matter of getting through segments of time, the more tolerable it will be. Once you’re over halfway through the session, it may seem easier like coasting downhill. After you do this repeatedly, it can get make sessions go more smoothly, as you realize you can handle it and may even enjoy it. This tip can also come in handy when seeing a difficult client.
I hope these tips help calm those nerves and make your first sessions more tolerable and enjoyable. To learn more about improving your sessions or help for finding paid internship/associateship work, click here.
Tyra Butler, LMFT, Early Career Clinician Coach