Counselling – Hard to Help Clients

 HandCounselling – Hard to Help Clients 

This check-list was give to me by my counselling tutor when I was in training over a decade ago.

I remember thinking at the time that the list was very judgmental , however over the years I have come appreciate it’s wisdom.


Fact is, as therapists we sometimes have to work harder with some clients than others, have a look at it , one thing that binds all the issues outlined below is attachment.

Clients who have a history of abuse , neglect or consistent criticism may consciously or sub -consciously set themselves and their therapist up to fail, repeating a cycle  of ‘why am I worth it ?’ or ‘no one can help’  .

The check list  gives a ‘psychological heads up, of the hard work both of you will experience as the therapy progresses, paradoxically it is the ” hard to help client” who probably needs the most support.

It may also be worth remembering that in the process of helping , you the therapist may need to exercise self care and increase your supervision ratios, when working with clients who are harder to help,.


  1. Does the client have a history of help seeking ?
  2. Has the client faced protracted criticism in the past?
  3. Is there a history of violence in the family?
  4. Have significant carers been emotionally unavailable for long periods?
  5. Are there unresolved issues related to death and separation ?

Client beliefs and behaviour

  1. Does the client expect to fail
  2. Does the client expect you to fail them
  3. Does the client expect you to reject them
  4. Is the client overly compliant or demanding or both
  5. Does the client have idealistic or unrealistic expectations

Social relationships

  1. Does the client have difficulty sustaining close relationships?
  2. Does the client feel isolated?

The counsellor

  1. Do you feel manipulated
  2. Do you see-saw between feeling criticised and needed?
  3. Do you feel rejected
  4. Do you feel guilty for letting the client down?
  5. Do you feel the client attempt to ‘dump’ their problems and emotions on you?
  6. Do you have difficulty trusting the client
  7. Do you feel that relationships outside the counselling room are being replicated within it without changes taking place as a result
  8. Do you feel boundaries which you have set are being challenged ?

Do you have any observations regarding clients that you have had to go an ‘extra mile with?

Why not post you comments below we would love to read them !