Find Your Client’s Lighthouse

Find Your Client's Lighthouse

Find Your Client's Lighthouse

Find Your Client’s Lighthouse


The purpose of a bio-psycho-social-spiritual assessment is to gain a broad and thorough understanding of the client including his medical, family, and work history, his strengths, supports, and challenges.

The definition of an assessment is easy enough to write and read but what happens in the real world when your client is mandated and the intake discussion does not flow as well as words on paper?

With mandated clients in particular the challenge to gain full understanding of a situation can be masked through client nerves, defensiveness, and occasionally, non-forthright answers.

All of these real world relational variables can leave the practitioner feeling adrift and frustrated in the conversation. It can be a bit like being in open water surrounded by conversational fog.

Occasional glimpses of a solid conversational direction will be seen but they often turn out to have no substance and provide no guidance as to the direction to head.

What to do in those situations? Find your client’s lighthouse.

When lost in conversational fog, seek out what has motivated your client to come to the session, his real purpose in going through the pain of the conversational experience with you.

Simply put, what does your client hope to gain out of coming to see you today, whether the client was mandated or not. Once you find out what the client wants, use it like a lighthouse to steer through the conversational fog.

Let’s stop for a moment and shift the conversation to ourselves.

Think about the last time you went shopping and walked into a store where a clerk came over to help you.

What do you want that clerk to ask? How can I help you? What are you looking for today?

This is because the clerk is aligning with your purpose for coming to the store. It is basic customer services to align with intentions of the client.

What kinds of things do mandated client’s want? Think beyond the immediate statement.

Clients who say they don’t want to talk to you and want the court to stop bothering them want their freedom and respect.

Validate these desires and partner with them, “Yes, it sounds like you are in a tough situation so let’s find out together what you need to do to get what you want.”

When the conversational fog rolls in, look to the lighthouse. “I know you want to have more choices and freedom, what could you do that would get you there?”

“Would completing this paperwork get you closer to what you want?”

Clients always have the choice not to come, even if this means going to jail. Ask things like, “can you help me understand why you chose to come here today.”

Explain that even though the court mandated it, they still have a choice. What was the choice to come here today based on?

Inevitably through these kinds of conversations you find their intrinsic motivation. Maybe it is their children, spouse, family, or dignity. It could be a dream or goal.

As practitioners when we find ourselves lost in conversational fog, seek out the client’s lighthouse and use it as a continual beacon to determine how to adjust the conversation for increased client investment and positive gain.


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J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

Chris holds a PhD and LCSW specializing in clinical individual and family therapy. He is a researcher, educator, practitioner, and supervisor with over 16 years experience. He has published chapters and articles in peer reviewed scientific journals and is an active scholar on the effectiveness of clinical practice.

June 7, 2014


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