This week's podcast comes from a question that one of my listeners sent to me:
“Being a younger, newer therapist in private practice, I often worry how my clients will perceive my age and expertise. I have had a few clients switch to older counsellors, though some genuinely like having a younger counsellor who can relate.”
It raises the question of what’s the most important thing to consider when working with a client. For me it’s all about connection, having a solid therapeutic relationship.
But what if you are very different from your client, how can you make that connection so as not to alienate them?
Is it important to be similar in some shape or form as your client, perhaps in age, sex, background, and does it matter?
Should you consider your niche to take advantage of your personal attributes, interests and qualities?
There could be a simple answer and it could be waiting for inside this podcast.
In this episode we explore:
Links to follow
Episode 3: Drop the psychobabble, get more clients
Read the Transcript
I love getting questions from listeners, and this episode follows on from a listener question from Keilyn, who said:
"I'm 30. I often worry about how my clients will perceive my age and expertise. I've had a few clients switch to older counsellors, although some genuinely like having a younger counsellor who can relate. How do people perceive a younger counsellor, and could this hold you back?"
This is a really important question because it's relevant to a lot of us. More and more younger people are getting into counselling, and I can understand how this would feel frustrating for those younger counsellors. They’ve done the same training, the same qualifications as everybody else, and are completely capable of working with any appropriate age range, according to their training.
However, we all have a point of difference, whether that’s being young or old, background, ethnicity, disability, sex, or gender. I think it's something we can use to elevate ourselves.
The Therapeutic Relationship
One of the most important things in counselling is the therapeutic relationship; it's like the backbone of everything. We know that the counselling could take longer if it isn't present; it could be more difficult and not give the client the best experience. And that's not fair on them.
When I was a young woman, I had some counselling. I was given a counsellor, and one of the issues with free counselling, as I'm sure you know, is that you usually don't choose who you get to see.
I was given an older male counsellor who was significantly older than me. He was probably about the age I am now, but at the time, he seemed really dusty and old and had the obligatory tweed jacket with elbow patches.
I do not doubt that he was very capable, very experienced and highly qualified, but because there was such a significant difference in our ages, the therapeutic relationship wasn't there.
He was old enough to be my Dad, so as a result of this, I edited what I said to him because I didn't want him to judge me.
He was also quite psychobabbly. What I mean by this is that I didn't understand the words and phrases he used. When he said something, I pretty much always had to ask him to repeat what he'd said or say it differently.
After a while, I got so embarrassed having to keep asking him that I ended up not asking anything because it made me feel stupid. I suppose I was still in full-on people-pleaser mode then, but I just didn't want to appear stupid.
I continually talk about the importance of using really clear language for this exact reason. It can alienate the client and put barriers up.
I felt stupid for not understanding him, and you don't want your potential clients or any clients to feel stupid. That's the last thing you want. Ensure everything is nice and clear so that people understand without having to check everything you say in a dictionary.
I still wonder how a man so much older could understand me and, more importantly, not judge me when I was a single woman about town getting in and out of relationships.
So although any age counsellor can work with any age client, I think in practice, it can be easier for both parties to work with people who have commonalities, things like being a similar age.
Now, I'm not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that we can only work with people of a similar age; these are simply my observations, both as a client and as a counsellor.
Connection and relatability are what helps a therapeutic alliance. I bang on about this all the time when I'm talking about marketing, be relatable, be friendly; it's going to help that connection to form.
For younger counsellors, having clients switch to older counsellors must feel worrying and frustrating.
You may have heard me talk about your business and your rules, and this next story is a perfect example that could help with this situation and perhaps consider a small mindset shift.
If you're a younger counsellor, you could specifically work with younger clients now. That might be children and young people or people in the 18 to 30 age range.
Currently, in the Grow Your Private Practice Membership, there is a young woman who's done a lot of work with schools. She recently said that as she's getting a little bit older, she's aware of the shift from the role of big sister to the role of young Auntie for these younger clients and the impact this might have on the work she does.
She's using this awareness to reflect on her next steps, and to me, that's exciting. How many positions can you have, where you get such a variety of work and such a wealth of experience? We are rarely in paid jobs where we can or have the flexibility to change and move into whatever feels right at the time.
When we think of younger people, whether they're going to university, just returned from university or in their first relationship, they may have issues around anxiety, and many young people struggle a lot with anxiety.
They may face anxiety with relationships; maybe it’s their first relationship or have experienced heartbreak from their first significant relationship ending. They may feel lonely, they may feel out of place, they may start discovering boundaries.
Some young people start having eating disorders when they go to university; they may be worried about their career, family pressures and might become a young parent. All these things are specific to them.
However, issues that everybody might have like depression, low self-esteem, grief, loss, change, stress, pressure, people-pleasing addiction apply to people of any age, including very young people.
So imagine when I was 25, going to counselling; just how much more comfortable I would have felt with someone that I felt knew and understood the lifestyle I had. Someone who understands the references made to things like dating, music, going out, social media, online dating, and long-distance relationships, which are all part of a young person's life, help to connect.
Using your difference to your advantage
I'm no longer a young person, so I no longer understand the ins and outs of a younger person’s life.
If, however, you are a younger counsellor, use this to your advantage. You can use anything personal to your advantage if you wanted to and felt comfortable with it - things like your ethnicity, sexuality, gender, maybe your disability, age and heritage. You can use all sorts of different things to your benefit when you're in private practice.
An example might be if you're from a farming background, you could work with farmers. Suicide is woefully high for people in the farming industry, so how much more comfortable would a farmer be to see someone who understands the stresses they're under.
Use your age to your advantage; use anything about yourself to your advantage that you can niche in a particular area. You could niche, for example, in young people with anxiety, meaning you become well versed in these issues. You can change the ages of your ideal clients as you get older, becoming somebody with a huge amount of experience and qualifications all-around anxiety, which means you become a bit of an expert in it.
So there you are, use your age to your advantage, connect with a younger client base, and change it up as you get older.
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