Getting the Helping Relationship Right

Kevin Singh

helping relationship, counselling relationships, counsellor, client, helper, therapist, therapy, mental health

What follows are three relationship dynamics that you may recognize in those you support. This knowledge will help you better analyze the helper–client relationship and stop potential mishaps before they even happen. It’s important to understand these three main categories as they apply to ourselves and our relationships.

Co/Dependent Relationships

This is the worst type of relationship. It’s when one or both people are desperately in need of the other, and there is no functioning or hope for success themselves. This can manifest when a client puts all their faith in the helper and abandons any individual responsibility. In this example, the “co” part is simply the client coming into your office too often. The client puts the helper on a pedestal, which then makes the professional feel pressured and anxious. Watch for it, an inadequate helper may even like this form of worship/ego boost and the power they hold over the client.

Examples
  • A client can’t do anything without you, and you can’t do anything productive without the client.
  • The client follows you 100% without ever offering their own ideas, historic information, or pushing back.
Tips for Supporting

Here are some helpful questions to ask if you find yourself in a co/dependent relationship with a client or colleague:

  • Ask your client, “What are you able to accomplish on  your own before our next meeting? This can be as small or big as you like. Let’s go at your pace, but there must be something.”
  • Explain to your client, “From now on, I’d like you to throw an idea out there before I offer my input, or tell me something you have tried in the past. Zero pressure. I just know you are the expert on your own life.

Overly Independent Relationships

In this scenario, the client and helper have their own thing going on – their own ideas about what’s possible and best. This client often prides themselves on their independence (which they should!), but this mindset can also hold them back in the form of refusing help or feedback outside of the specific issue they came to you with.

They may say things like, “You don’t know my life at all” or “it’s my life, I know what to do.” Unfortunately, there is a reason they came to you or problem they need help with, and a new strategy or plan of action is necessary.

If the overly independent client feels that the helper aids them too much, they may panic at the slightest hint of dependency and become even more avoidant.

This client will be avoidant and refuse indirect conversation, which would prove relevant in their holistic healing. If the client feels that the helper aids them too much, they may panic at the slightest hint of dependency and become even more avoidant.

When a client is overly independent, it may cause the helper to feel that their opinions and services are not valued. They may question their own importance beyond this client relationship to their entire workplace or career.

Example
  • A client who hardly talks or asks anyone for help, whether they’re a close friend or professional helper. Usually, this person does not have close friends and isolates themselves, making the excuse that they are an introvert and can fix whatever they’re going through.
Tips for Supporting
  • Commend the client for how much they have been able to accomplish. Remind them that your help is them positively utilizing a resource.
  • Set appointment frequency to account for the client’s avoidance. Every week might be too much and, even if they agree, they may come to resent you. Put everything on the table with the client and remember to always push gently to find a frequency that is productive and realistic.

Interdependent Relationships

Interdependent relationships are when two people decide to team up together and move from “you and me” to “we.” There is mutual respect and empathy, and both people use transparent communication and always check with the other before making a decision. Through these crucial conversations, an action plan is formed that each person is motivated for and believes in.

Example
  • When the helper and client no longer need validation, approval, or compliments from the other. This dynamic is past simply being “nice” to each other because the foundation mutual respect has already been established.
Tips for Getting Here
  • Develop a transparency policy with clients. Neither of you are going to let anything fester.
  • Even though the client’s life is their own, emphasize that the new success plan is different than it was before. They now have your evidence-based knowledge and so the chance of success is greater than the previous attempts.

How about you?

  • How have you noticed these types of relationships come up in the counselling room?
  • What’s the trend? Are the majority of your client relationships codependent, too independent, or interdependent?
  • Ten minutes before a client comes in, try analyzing your dynamic with the client. Then consider what you can do to improve the relationship.
Are the majority of your client relationships codependent, too independent, or interdependent?

No professional has interdependent relationships with all their clients, but the first step is to consider how you can change your habits or mindset to create a “we” vibe/plan that you are both on board with. Awareness and healthy relationships take practice, so be sure to use the strategies in this blog to help you improve your relationships with your clients.


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Author: Kevin Singh (MSW, RSW)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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