Welcome back to the dilemmas page, in which we ask for answers to fictional ‘what if’ nightmare scenarios that we might find ourselves in as psychotherapy trainees. By looking at the contributions from our readers we get to see the many different approaches to a single problem, and also equip ourselves with a selection of responses should we ever come into contact with something as difficult in the real world.
This edition you are at a party, you are with a loud, extroverted and slightly drunk friend when they introduce you to someone else who you immediately recognize as a client who you are currently working with. This client has presented issues in therapy around trust and boundaries. Your mutual acquaintance does not know that they are in therapy, nor that you are working with them and they begin to talk anecdotally about your old university or school days together. How do you deal with the situation?*
Suzie, CCPE Student says Hindsight is a beautiful thing and ideally I would have discussed with the client beforehand what would be their preferred protocol for bumping into each other in places outside of the therapy room. However this situation has far more layers of sensitivity than just passing your client on the street. In terms of this encounter, I would certainly not disclose in front of my drunk friend that I know the client already. I would look to the client to take the lead on this. By doing this, the client can set their own boundaries and feel more empowered about a potentially difficult situation. If the client pretends we’ve never met, I would collude with this and then try to extract myself from the conversation as soon as possible. I would then try to keep a distance from the client for the rest of the evening and would most likely leave early to save my own embarrassment if nothing else. If I was able to get any time on my own with the client during the evening, then I would acknowledge the unusualness of the situation and that we can talk about this next session. I feel that given the client has issues around trust and boundaries, this situation could be very revealing and a way of working in the here and now with their issues as they present themselves in our therapeutic relationship.
Kelly, CCPE Student says I would try to tactfully extricate myself from the conversation as quickly as possible then discuss the encounter with the client at the next session, inquiring how he/she felt etc. Additionally, if I felt a ‘social meetup’ was a risk in starting the therapy (due to proximity or mutual acquaintances), I would have earlier explores with the client how he/she would like me to behave should we run into each other outside of the therapy room. Just to have a ‘game plan’ in place.
Terry, CCPE Student says Without thinking about it too much: I don’t think there is any outward course of action that feels ideal, be it taking my friend aside or letting the situation run its course or whatever else. There may be a learning that would come after the event – of acknowledging to myself that there was an intrinsic awkwardness to the situation which couldn’t be avoided whichever course of action I chose to take. There is also something transpersonal about the incident, especially if the client has trust and boundary issues. From the transpersonal perspective, it is no accident that this has happened. It provides the perfect material for our next session. Assuming the client turns up!