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Privacy Please

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Privacy Please: How to have effective counseling with a client who is private with their thoughts, emotions, and history.

A conversation with one of my clients prompted to me to write an article about whether or not you have to open up and share what is going on to benefit from counseling. I think there is a preconceived idea of a person lying on the couch as the psychotherapist probes the person’s brain during counseling. It provokes feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. This is far from the normal counseling experience. When a person walks through the door into the counseling room, they are fully in charge of what they share, how they share it, and on their own terms. With this being said, being dishonest will not result in progress in counseling. However, it is quite possible to experience huge growth through counseling without having to share your deepest darkest feelings.

I have encountered several kids over the years who do not want to talk about their situation and are private about their thoughts and feelings. When you experience this, it does not mean you can't help them, you just need to take a different approach. I have had great success by simply acknowledging that they enjoy privacy and that I'm willing to help in a different way. They feel respected and honored, which seems to motivate them to work.


It is not necessary for a client to share their soul with the therapist to make progress. On the contrary, they need a coach, someone to provide a framework for them to work from. Instead of processing all of the emotions in the counseling room they can learn the skills and implement them in a place where they feel safe. A session would generally consist of the client asking questions, discussing the situation in a general manner, and spending time doing psychoeducation. Reading a story about a child who had a similar experience might be useful or maybe asking how they would coach a friend who is going through a similar situation.

Play therapy is also a powerful tool to use with these kiddos. Play therapists know they are doing important work when they sit with a sand tray or a dollhouse, but the child sees it as playtime. They are able to act out and communicate the conflicts within their hearts without having to say a word.

In conclusion, there are many ways to make significant progress with clients without prying for information. They will value having their boundaries respected and will feel safer to work when they are in the counseling room. Prying does not work well.


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