This is a topic I feel is very important – although part of me thinks “yikes” as I write it. I was having a conversation with a mentor of mine, who spends the first 20 – 30 minutes of the initial session teaching her client how to “be a good client”. When I told her how uncomfortable the idea made me feel, she asked me to think of a good client of mine…and then think about their results – her point was clear, and she was right, good clients get good results.

A couple of recent experiences have highlighted this for me. First, I’ve been doing workshops for psychologists, dietitians, and personal trainers for a couple of years now, and every time I do a workshop, I seem to pick up a new client (#weareallinthistogether). These professional clients are getting great results – because they know how therapy works – they know how to be good clients and get the most out of sessions. Secondly, I’ve had a couple of not-so-good clients, clients who I know I could help…if they’d just get out of their own way. Third, I’ve had some great clients, who have made it work despite significant challenges and barriers to doing the work, and are getting great results!

I was presenting at a Symposium for the Obesity Prevention and Treatment Society some years ago, where a colleague asked me “what predicts someone will do well in your therapy?” I started speaking about the variables…black and white thinking, and emotional eating, and… he stopped me and said “Glenn, what I’m asking is, when a person sits down in your office, what tells you they are going to do well?” The answer then became quite simple. Whether it’s with your personal trainer, psychologist, dietitian, or doctor, here are the attitudes that I think make up a good client:

(1) Commitment to sessions. We all have lives outside self-development, financial considerations, and doubts about new approaches, but prioritizing your sessions is central to results – “can we get in on Friday instead?” clients do better than “I’ve got a busy few weeks, let’s catch up in a month” clients; “I’m doing well, let’s debrief our progress and go from there” clients do better than “I’m doing well so can we rebook for a couple of weeks” clients; And “I’m struggling, so it’s a great time to see you” clients do better than “I’m struggling, so there’s no point in coming in today” clients. Your health professional wants you to come in and get results, so they’ll make it work if possible. This week, I’ve happily discounted someone’s sessions, booked another outside my hours, and done a phone session with someone who couldn’t make it in, as they were committed to their progress.

(2) Openness to new ideas. This does not mean you blindly believe what your health professional is saying to you. It does mean that you try to listen, open yourself up to, and understand a new way of doing things – after all… that’s what you’re there for, isn’t it? If your health professional has to spend 90% of the time finding an idea (and a way to package it) that you will accept, there’s not much time for progress.

(3) Effort. As much change happens between sessions as inside them. Being willing to “translate” your in-session ideas to changes outside them is necessary for lasting change. This does not mean you have to be perfect, but try to do your best. When you do this, it creates a nice momentum in sessions, where you’re building on foundations you’ve laid in the last session.

Good clients get better results, they get them quicker and with fewer sessions, and I know they have more fun in their time with me. I’ll do my best to be a good psychologist if you’ll do your best to be a good client. Deal?

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