Asking Clients Permission | offering choices to clients in counseling | tips for psychotherapists


Quick summary: What do you do when you think that an intervention will be helpful, but you are worried that the intervention might lead the client to leave therapy? You can always ask permission before you attempt a new technique or intervention with a client.


There is a difficult dynamic in the psychotherapy process as often a therapist will offer a intervention that the client is not yet ready for… the intervention could be very helpful… it could be something that the client absolutely needs for recovery, but moving too fast could encourage the client to prematurely terminate therapy.


Asking permission Technique – if you want to try something and your intuition is telling you that there is uncertainty concerning how a technique or intervention will be received by the client, then ask them permission and encourage a short dialog about your proposed direction.


Immediacy – Immediacy can be very difficult for certain therapists to allow themselves to engage in… and in truth many clients find immediacy too forward and it can make them feel too self conscious.


  • Ask permission – “I believe it could be helpful to you if I pointed out some non-verbal information that I have been picking up… some people find it terribly annoying (discomforting, unhelpful etc) when I point such things out. Do you think it would be helpful if I pointed out some things that might give you a bit of insight into what your body is saying about certain subjects?”


Switching from a circular approach to a linear approach or visa versa.


  • Ask permission – “Thus far we have been allowing the process of therapy to explore whatever feels important to you in the moment; we have been most concerned with helping you in possessing, experiencing, and in gaining insight. In this instance it appears that you may benefit from a more pragmatic solution. Would it feel beneficial to you if we had a linear session that was dedicated to solving this very specific and concrete concern?”


Switching theoretical orientations all together.


  • Ask permission – “I have been using a Rogerian form of therapy with you in which I have attempts to offer you both empathy and acceptance so that you may grow from having your genuine self reflected back to you. I am sensing that you may desire a more directive stance from me in which I use more confrontation or psycho education, would it benefit you (or is it ok with you) if I took a more directive stance?”


Mediating couples and family sessions for the safety of the participants.


  • Ask permission – “Often times people will engage in communication patterns that leave both parties feeling worse off then before they started. Part of my job is to help you to communicate more effectively so that you all can have your needs explained and met. Is it ok with all of you that I stop you if I believe that you are heading in an unhelpful direction?”


Asking permission is an intervention in and of itself – it shows people that you respect their boundaries and that you are willing to collaborate with them in the healing process.


In what other situations do you believe that it is important to ask permission?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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