Can we be friends?
"Is it ever ok to become friends with a client? I mean when the therapy has ended."
This was a question asked recently by a fellow counsellor on an online forum. There were a host of responses no doubt, mostly a resounding big 'no' but it got me thinking.
Many see the counselling profession as steadfast in its rules - no contact with former clients until at least two years have passed and even then one should not really begin any form of relationship with the client but it is a question I feel that one should think about first before reacting. I know of an instance where feelings have developed between former clients and therapists and some therapists have even left the profession to marry their clients. How does one address these feelings that do arise?
I think the question of whether it is ever OK to become friends with a client is an important one and one that therapists will need to continually ask themselves throughout their work and not just once. I think that here what's important is the word "friend".
Aristotle described friendship as a wish in wanting to be friends which is seen as quick work but that friendship, in grounded reality, is a slow ripening fruit. The request for friendship would more often than not come from the former client. But reflect upon this: the relationship between therapist and client began with the client disclosing what's within their heart to the therapist and found that to help which is as it should be.
Friendship, if created and desired later, would always bear a semblance to what once was. For example, the former client would still want to talk about their problems to the former counsellor and the counsellor within you will still feel obliged to allow this to happen; to let your ears, your mind/heart be used once again. You will also feel that "your stuff" will go unspoken because you will not feel that your former client wants to know or can actually hold this - and you'll be right.
In therapy, the client has no idea what keeps the counsellor up at 3am, their favourite food or even their sorrow. After therapy, the former client will still not really want to know even if they may ask. We are all drawn to this profession because of our own wounds and want to heal others with theirs. So be mindful that you will be drawn to your former client precisely because of this within you. At the end of it all, and there will be an end, it will not be the client who gets hurt in the process. It will be you. And you've worked too long and too hard to allow this to happen.
Find your friends in relationships not connected to the therapy world as these are the friendships that will bring you joy and peace.
Look after yourselves and for those who think "oh, I'll never ever be friends with a former client" well good for you I say, but don't be too sure, as someday down the road you may find yourself wanting to be for reasons too complex and powerful to put into words. I can only hope that in that moment, should it occur, you put yourself first. Your work with your former client is done.
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About Amrit Sagoo
Without the labels, I am just me. With the labels, I am a therapist with an interest in human beings and the stories we live.