Who are you? Counselling Client or Speaker?

Photo by Mitch Moondae on Unsplash

Client: A client of a professional person or organisation is a person or company that receives a service from them in return for payment.

I started studying counselling in 2017. From the outset, I have pondered the noun client to describe a person who seeks or engages in counselling. In student practice, we talk about the speaker and the listener.

I have continued using the word speaker after qualifying and asking people to pay to work together. The definition of the client does describe the service I am offering, but it feels slightly strange. Even though the term client trips of the tongue better than other words. I rarely would use patient in my current practice because it is not a clinical practice. It is me at home with a computer and, even when times change, it is likely to be an office somewhere.

I think for me using client makes me feel like I am an interior designer. I could certainly pick a G-Plan Sideboard and position it in a room with a drinks cabinet for £100. That, however, is not my skill nor practice.

What allowed me to think about the term I use arose from various podcast interviews with Psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach. In many of those interviews, she mentions her seeking a comfortable word to describe the person in the other chair; client, patient or whatever suits.

In that case, does it depend on the spatiality in which the person seeking counselling? In a clinical situation like a hospital or GP surgery, it will be patient. In my private practice, I am taking payment directly from that person seeking counselling. So why do I stumble over saying ‘client’?

I don’t know if I can quite answer that in the end. The client is a quick and forthright term. When I was completing my student placement in a Higher Education college, I called them students rather than the client. Writing up my case notes, I write ‘speaker’. I rationalise it because that person is speaking to me, I listen and together, create something together. That is the most important aspect of therapy, creating something together for change. Does the person opposite me ever know if I call them a client?

Possibly not, unless they have read it connected to counselling or I use the term. In that space, that person to me is the speaker. I, the listener, offering them guided discovery. I think the only other service I offer them is a glance of my cat, working from home and usually her tail and backside through the camera lens. Not much of a welcome really and would a client in any other environment appreciate these quirky moments when the focus should be on the person I the other seat.

As the current pandemic shifts into history and I move work into a more formal environment, will I become more aligned with the term client? In response, I am not sure. It could reflect where I am in my career as a counsellor or a radical element of my view in the world of counselling. My role is as a listener for the person seeking counselling, the speaker.

I pay myself to think. Youth Worker and former Gender Studies student now writing on LGBTQ culture, social spaces and gender.

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