It’s a phenomenon that occurs for all counselors, no matter our area of expertise or years of experience. Our client has begun attending regular sessions, we’ve done a thorough investigation into the initial presenting issue that brought them into therapy, we’ve established a strong rapport, and all seems to be going smoothly. As the counselor in the room, we are ready to dig deep and begin the work.
Once trust has been well established, and our client feels safe, they often find themselves revealing much deeper and distressing challenges in their life.
As the counselor, we are engaged and eager to work through this deeper stuff, and believe that ‘this’ is what really brought our client into therapy. Then, the unimaginable happens. The client cancels their next appointment. Or worse, they simply don’t show up. They do not respond to our call or text inquiry. Basically, we’ve been ghosted.
We’ve gotten too close to the fire.
We’ve finally gotten to the real issue, the real problem, the trauma from their past, the depth of the dysfunction of their relationship… It is something which provokes embarrassment, shame, or guilt for them. When this happens - rather than enduring the stress of the revelation - the client will choose not to return.
My colleagues and I often discuss this phenomenon. Occasionally, we realize that we sensed where the work needed to go, but we moved too quickly to get there. That’s on us.
However, more often than not, the client simply felt overwhelmed with what they had revealed. Their ‘fight or flight’ impulse kicked in… and they fled!
But this is the time to stay.
The safety that was there for the client when their revelation occurred will still be there moving forward. The client’s privacy and confidentiality will be honored.* The opportunity to finally confront this ‘thing’ they have carried for years - maybe even a lifetime - is real and possible. The assistance of a skilled counselor and the courage necessary to confront the issue, can offer true and enduring relief from the carried pain and suffering. Once the issue has been thoroughly discussed and the resulting feelings felt, the client will be able to move forward with a renewed sense of purpose, and their time spent in counseling will have been a truly life-changing experience.
The fire doesn’t extinguish itself. Stay. Feel the heat. Extinguish the flames once and for all. You and your future are worth the work.
*If the client has revealed that they are at risk of harm to themselves or others, or that they themselves are in imminent danger, then the provision of privacy and confidentiality must be breached, per the counselor’s professional licensure requirements. This exception to the promise of privacy and confidentiality will have been discussed at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship.