Working with Difficult Clients


When I first started my career teaching high school students, a marvelous teacher and mentor shared something with me I've never forgotten.

I was complaining to him about a particular student who I couldn't seem to get through to.

This student drove me crazy. He pushed my buttons, and "got to me" in a way that I didn't understand. And worse, none of my little tricks that I used to reach reluctant students worked with this young man.

I was going on and on about what a pain in the, um, "neck" this student was. I was giving examples of all the irritating things he did, and inviting my mentor to agree with me.

He didn't.

Instead, he said to me, "Mindy, whenever you have a student who really pushes your emotional buttons, you need to stop and take a closer look. Whatever it is that is REALLY getting to you is something that you see in yourself. In some way, this kid reminds you of something in yourself that you don't really like."

Being the terrific pupil that I was, I told my mentor that he was crazy.

This kid was nothing like me. There was nothing about me that was like him.

My mentor just laughed and told me to think about it.

I did think about it a great deal over that weekend, and before I went back to school that next Monday, I realized that my mentor was absolutely right.

The student who was getting on my nerves so much wanted to be the center of attention. And hey, it was MY class -- I should be the center of attention!

When I had this realization, the emotional charge fell away, and I had great compassion and understanding for the student. After all, we were one and the same.

After that, I didn't behave or respond any differently than I had before I came to this understanding, but obviously I was coming from a different place because we started to get along.

More importantly, he started to learn, and he allowed me to help him grow into the person we both knew he could be.

And it was all from that realization and a shift in attitude.

The same thing happens with our clients and patients.

When I recently returned from my trip and was back in the office, I saw a name in my appointment book that made my stomach clench a bit.

This person is lovely and wonderful and complex, just as we all are, but for some reason my buttons are pushed when we work together.

The solution, of course, is to step back and ask what is being mirrored back to me about myself.

Whatever it is that's bugging me about her is actually bugging me about me.

I hate these insights so much.

But they are real and true, and allow me to come from a place of neutral, rather than a place of being irritated and annoyed.

In this case, the gal's neediness reminds me of my own neediness that I try to squash down and keep under wraps.

Just by acknowledging the quality that is being mirrored is enough to allow me to come to the session from a completely different place.

When you find yourself struggling with a particular client, step back and ask yourself: "What is it about me that I see in this person?"

Then, lovingly and gently allow the answer to come up.

And remember to give yourself as much patience and love as you give to others.

Then, feel your feet on the floor, and coming from a place of neutral, allow the session to unfold in its unique, perfect way.