5 Bad Habits That Ruin Client-Therapist Relationships

Written by Trisha Bhullar

The relationship between clients and therapists is one-of-a-kind: it requires a deep level of intimacy, yet a strong wall of professionalism. In order to achieve this perfect balance, therapists have to cultivate the perfect sharing environment for their clients — but that’s easier said than done. Most therapists have small quirks that they themselves might not realize, but these quirks could actually be bad habits that ruin client-therapist relationships. 

 

TOP 5 BAD THERAPIST HABITS:

#1 SHOWING UP LATE

Punctuality is important in any context, simply because it shows you respect other people’s time. In an industry like psychotherapy, punctuality is even more important because this trust and respect define client-therapist relationships. An unapologetically late therapist seems distant, cold and uncaring to clients. Besides this, it’s just plain unprofessional!

The best way to avoid this is by good time management and organization. Whether it’s using the calendar app on your phone or setting multiple alarms in the morning, take small steps to meet clients on time and demonstrate their importance to you. 

 

#2 YAWNING

This one’s more tricky because you might not even notice it. Yawning is only natural (especially 8 am on monday mornings) but it can cause distress in your clients. Not only is yawning disrespectful, but it also triggers many clients to shut themselves off. Let’s put this in perspective: if someone yawns when you’re confiding in them about your deepest fears and worries, it definitely won’t feel good. Clients with conditions related to anxiety or heightened emotional responses could take it personally. After a confidence-buster like this, it’ll take much more time and effort to rebuild the trust you once had, effectively damaging your client-therapist relationship. 

Remember to perk up and come to the office wide-awake. You could try working out in the morning, surviving on coffee, or sucking on a breath mint during your first session (as long as it isn’t distracting!)

 

#3 EXCESSIVE NOTE-TAKING

On one hand of the spectrum, we had yawning and perceived disinterest, but on the other hand, we have over-enthusiasm. Note-taking is essential for therapists because it’s the best way to remember clients’ habits, experiences, and emotions, which then can be cross-referenced to determine progress. However, excessive note-taking can be distracting. Most clients prefer a natural conversation with their therapist, so excessive note-taking can be slightly off-putting. It dehumanizes the experience and can even cause discomfort as they feel scrutinized. Overthinkers will find themselves stressed too: “Why did she write that down? Did I say something wrong? Was that worrying? Should I tell her about the next thing…maybe not?” This train of thought makes them feel insecure, and ultimately, hinders trust.

Note-taking can be done in a very subtle, staggered manner. There are plenty of note-taking techniques out there that can help you capture all essential information in no-time. If you really want to catch every word said, try audio recording instead. 

 

#4 INJECTING PREFERENCES

Has “okay, but no one asked” ever popped into your head? Well, that’s because it’s undeniable frustrating when someone forces their personal preferences onto you in a social setting. This is even worse in a professional therapy environment. Trying to inject your personal thoughts/experiences into a session is great because it can strengthen your bond with clients while humanizing you as a listener to their problems. However, if done too often, this can be a bad habit that ruins client-therapist relationships. The constant interruption can unsettle or even annoy clients. Even worse, if therapists consistently inject a perspective that opposes that of the client’s, he/she may feel less inclined to share his/her opinion.

It’s perfectly fine to share your views or experiences with clients in a balanced, tasteful manner. If you ever feel the urge to contradict them (especially on a frequent basis), try probing them about their choices instead of blatantly disagreeing with them. By gently asking them to dig deeper and explain their choices, you could help them see the flaws in their actions without explicitly telling them that their decisions are, in your opinion, terrible. 

 

#5 CLOCK-WATCHING

At the end of the day, therapy is paid service. Therapists have clients, meetings, and schedules. It’s essential to stay on track — not just for the sake of keeping to schedule but also for ensuring that sessions are productive. However, as much as therapists like to believe it, the constant “subtle” glances at clocks are not subtle at all. They can cause nervousness in clients, discomfort and a reluctance to talk more. 

We suggest using a distraction-free timer instead of regular clocks. A Timeqube Mind, for example, is built specifically for therapists to keep track of time in an unobtrusive manner. It is a cube that changes color as time runs out, gently fading from one color to the next till time runs out. Since color changes can easily be sensed by periphery vision, there’s really no need for constant glancing. The lack of a ticking noise also reduces any form of time-sensitivity in clients. It’s a perfect way to keep track of time in a soothing, polite manner. 

 

Ultimately, bad habits that ruin client-therapist relationships aren’t impossible to change— it’s all about being mindful and observing your smallest quirks. By addressing each of these points, you could really make some progress with your clients!