Responding to client praise.

There is a kind of unwritten rule in psychotherapy.

It’s a nice when one has worked well with a client and they say something like:

“Thank you for all the help you have given me, I feel so much better and made changes with the work we have done . You have been a great help, thank you.”

A very nice stroke without a doubt. But it is probably safe to say many therapists respond with a comment like this:

“Thank you but it has been you that has done all the work and taken the risks with new changes and feelings, You need to be complimented and acknowledged for what you have achieved.”


Is it OK to accept reverence or should we be more humble or maybe this is not even the question to be asked


It is kind of expected that you will respond with a comment similar to this. And the logic behind this is meant to highlight all the work the client has done and the therapist is merely a facilitator with the client doing all the risk taking and so forth. Also there is always the danger of the client playing the game, “Gee you’re wonderful professor”, so therapists may respond as such to avoid the possibility of playing the game. Or maybe some therapist are just uncomfortable with accepting praise.

This is all true in various situations but I wonder if the therapist is also discounting the client and in particular discounting the connection the client is wanting to make with the therapist.

Psychological change is a very personal and intimate thing that can touch the very core of who we are. If a client reaches out to a therapist and seeks to acknowledge their role in what has been a very personal experience for them, maybe it is a discount not to do so. Maybe the therapist needs to acknowledge they have played a significant part of this intimate chapter of the client’s life. This in itself would be therapeutic compared to the usual rebuff that therapists most often do. For the therapist to acknowledge the work connection between them and the intimate role that has played in the client’s life may not only be a nice thing for the client but also therapeutic.

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5 Responses to “Responding to client praise.”

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  1. I’m thinking that the practitioner’s response is dependent on whether the client’s statement is an invitation to symbiosis or an expression of intimacy.

    I imagine learning can be gained whether practitioner experiences either countertransference or noncountertransference feelings.

    • Tony White says:

      I think you make a good point Alex, it depends on the client’s motives behind such a comment. At least some of the time, if not most of the time, it will be an expression of intimacy and if it is then I think therapists should respond not in the discounting way that I describe. Thanks for your comment and good to see you on my blog!

  2. Me says:

    Hello old friend. I dont know why i pop in from time to time. An impulse. I leave a message. But never mostly never see the reply. But i know the reply. Kind. British kind. Hah! Yes. Inebriated friday night. (My allowed booze night. ). I pop and see you. And then our friend spilled ink Lynn. I miss Lynn. She is a godess. Good old days. Tell me old friend. my dads twin – is dying. We are all dying, but he has defined finite time. How do you confront that. All is harvest. But surely bravery comes in to fore. And what does that mean to our existence. And confronted with your own death. Real finite time. Honestly. How do we greet it? Fear. Acceptance. Relief. Friendship. Or fuck it. Xxxx

  3. Deepak says:

    I find also reflecting on the therapists own stroke economy is helpful. If I am deprived of strokes, then my impulse is to take and celebrate it, loosing the focus on the client.

  4. Tony White says:

    That seems a reasonable proposal Deepak, That some therapists may suffer from stroke deprivation and indeed could use a client as a source of strokes which of course is damaging to the therapy. However it is probably safe to say that most do not and to accept a stroke from the client will benefit the client in the ways I have mentioned. Regards Tony

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