When Your Client Is Stuck: 3 Client Types and What to Do - Mother Zen & Gillian Reid
Gillian Reid & Mother Zen provides integrative psychotherapy combining mindfulness, holistic nutrition and talk therapy. We help women who have experienced maternal mental health challenges have healthy motherhood journeys so they can deeply connect with their babies and rise to their full mother potential.
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When Your Client Is Stuck: 3 Client Types and What to Do

When Your Client Is Stuck: 3 Client Types and What to Do

As wellness practitioners, we have all experienced many different types of clients. The ones who do everything we say, exactly how we say it. They are patient with their progress, have realistic expectations, confidence in themselves and us as their guide, and they end up with beautiful results. Then we have our clients who are the opposite. They start out as a role model for motivation but tend to “tweak” our recommendations so they get better, faster results. Their expectations are high and inevitably they crash. We jump in as their practitioners to cheer them on and offer encouragement, which may get us a bit further but then things crash again. We try as many different things we can think of to bust our clients out of this rut. But THEY ARE STUCK. We feel frustrated and so do they. They lose confidence and we lose a client success story even though our work is good, and we know this because we have had so many clients tell us so!

So what is happening here? The answer is there are several reasons, some complicated, and it really depends on the person. The key is getting to know which client you have, so you can think about how to manage things.

Client Type 1:

Why They Are Stuck: Your client is not in enough discomfort with their status quo. Change is hard and uncomfortable. The reality is that in order for people to make meaningful change, they have to want it enough to “walk through the fire” or feel the discomfort of change in order to keep doing it. Otherwise, they feel the hot temperature and decide that it was actually better where they were before than to keep on this path. When the place your client was at is “hotter”, and more painful, than the fire they have to walk through in order to change, they will do it!  It’s like reverse motivation.

What You Can Do:  Make the change process as comfortable as possible. First, clearly set their expectations. The fire will be hot but it will start to cool down. “When things feels really hard, this is what we will do”. Next, clearly understand their WHY. Why are things so uncomfortable that they want to make this change and work with you? What does that feel like for them physically and emotionally? What will it be like once they have made the changes? Remind them of this when things get hard. It is very important to do this work in the beginning otherwise it will be harder for you to keep them on track during the actual process.

Your Practitioner Goal: Make the process you are coaching them through easier than staying the same. Be able to remind them of how it was before, and what they get when they reach the end.

Client Type 2:

Why They Are Stuck: Your client’s history of making change has not worked out well before.  Humans learn from experience. Every experience we have comes with lessons, and we have an inherent ability to blame ourselves for failure rather than blame the situation. For instance, if your client has tried diets in the past and failed, it was likely because a. It wasn’t the right plan for them, b. They didn’t have the right expectations, c. They weren’t set up for success with the proper tools or support….the list of reasons could keep going and going. Yet, for some reason we often take failure as a blow to our self-esteem. Our confidence takes a hit and we remember this experience. So when this client buys a service from us, their progress stalls, and no matter what we do to get things back on track they won’t budge, this is often why. They feel like they might as well quit because it didn’t work before, so it won’t work now. By the way, these are not excuses. Too often I see coaches telling their clients to suck it up but that approach will not work with this person.

What You Can Do: Take on the role of confidence-builder in addition to health coach. The notion the client has of themselves being a failure when they try to make change will keep sticking its ugly head into many stages of your work. To combat this, look at the change process as a series of many small goals that add up to a larger goal. This allows for multiple confidence-building experiences throughout the process rather than a long period of time with no measurable success. For example, instead of focusing on the 50lbs that the client wants to lose, your client cooked all of their meals at home for a full week. Chalk up a WIN for your client. They succeeded in making a change. Did they get out and exercise consistently for 3 weeks in a row? Another win. Another celebration of success. As the process goes on, if you have coached this type of client correctly, they will have an enormous sense of accomplishment and confidence because they are aware of all of the things they have succeed at, instead of failed at. They are more motivated and driven to continue in the change process. Often the overall goal does not even matter anymore, because they feel so much pride in what they have achieved. As an added bonus, they generally have a great view of you as their coach who really helped them.

Your Practitioner Goal: Create small, measurable goals and stop to notice and celebrate these. Repeat this over and over.

Client Type 3:

Why Your Client Is Stuck: Your client’s mind is wired differently. This is the most complicated reason to explain but often if #1 and #2 do not work this is why. Our brains are a series of neurons communicating with each other sort of like ants in the grass going to their ant hole. Over time, the ants wear down a path that makes it easier for them to go the same way. They get their faster and more efficient because there are no twigs or stones in the way anymore. Our neurons function similarly. When we think a certain way for a long period of time, that way of thinking becomes the default. It’s the smoothest, most familiar path to take. So smooth, that we do not know we are doing it.

Here is where it gets tricky. If something bad happened to someone, either as a child when the brain was still developing, or even as an adult if it was stressful enough, it changes the path for the neurons. Everyone’s brain paths are slightly different based on the way we learned to think from a very early age, but some people have quite different pathways of thinking. This can be very hard for us as coaches to understand, especially if we cannot identify with it because it seems to make no logical sense. Think about what happens when the ants coming across a large rock that got kicked in the middle of the path they made. They automatically start going around it and eventually have a new, longer, less efficient path around the rock. If the rock is big enough, the ants may not find their way around at all. They may go in different directions, make a series of new paths, and even get lost.

The problem with the “Tony Robbins – Everyone can do it if they put their mind to it” approach is that some people really can’t just put their mind to it if their wiring is different. YES, wiring and thought patterns can change. We know about neuroplasticity now and the brain’s ability to change itself. But that does NOT mean we as coaches should try to change it ourselves. This can be harmful and potentially cause more damage to your client. Tony Robbins is cool, motivating and has unique skills which is why he makes millions. But we are not all Tony Robbins and we are not all professionals in mental health so it’s not worth the risk to your clients.

What You Can Do: Recognize when all of your efforts and attempts are not working. Notice if your client seems to actually be in distress and if there seem to be deeper emotions or thought patterns involved. See if you can change the goals to something more attainable so they still have a positive experience. Contract with them to take a break and make plan to come back to things. Gently refer them to someone who is qualified to help change a person’s thoughts without causing harm.

Your Practitioner Goal: Work within your scope of expertise. Keep being a coach by making hard decisions with them, not for them. And don’t give up on them…you’ll see them again soon when they are ready.


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