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Does Your Client Psycho-babble?

How to help the client who's 'heard it all'


What if your client knows more psychological terminology than you do?

“My last therapist said that the source of my anxiety was based in an Oedipus Complex from a childhood event and I should read these books and really analyze my denial about the narcissism that causes this co-dependency…”

Have you ever had a client who sounded like a self-help book? Whose every other word was psychobabble or therapeutic jargon?

Did they constantly refer back to the words and interventions of previous therapists? Or maybe they analyzed everything, dwelling on the minute details.

And then when you try to help with your own interventions, it can be difficult to find an in-road because they ‘see what you did there’ or ‘already tried that’.

You may be dealing with a client who has been ‘over-therapied’.

How does someone become an ‘professional client’?

Of course, some people have had many different therapists and hundreds of therapy sessions because they genuinely need help for severe psychological suffering. But ‘more’ isn’t necessarily ‘better’ – and the ‘over-therapied’ may have become confused by all the theory they have been fed.

The original complaint that led them to therapy may have been something quite simple. But it’s a persistent notion that psychological problems always have ‘deep roots’ and many people are easily persuaded that treatment needs to be complex and drawn out. Not to mention expensive.

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Ideally, therapy works fluidly ‘behind the scenes’, so we stop analyzing every thought or feeling and regain perspective instead of losing it to constant introspection. If therapy instead becomes an intrusive ‘reference point’ used in every situation, things have gone too far.

If you suspect psychotherapy has become your client’s raison d’être, then that’s an additional problem, and one that will have to be dealt with before you can hope to make much progress on their original (perhaps now ancient) issue.

Here are three parts of a tonic you can serve for suspected therapeutic ‘indigestion’

1. Differentiate this therapy from their past experiences

Make it clear that you are not like other therapists. Tell your client that you (and they) have no need to talk psychobabble or theory. You might say something like, “I’m a nuts and bolts kind of person, so I need to hear things in simple, everyday terms.”

2. Set clear therapy goals

Clear, achievable, and time-limited goals are essential for good therapy. It’s amazing how many ‘professional clients’ seem to have forgotten what therapy is supposed to be for.

3. Get needs met outside of therapy

People who have been in therapy for a long time are particularly at risk for unconsciously using their therapy sessions as a substitute for meeting their primal human needs – especially for attention, company, and a sense of purpose and meaning.

Long-term therapy clients risk unconsciously using sessions as a substitute for meeting their primal human needs.

Clients may sometimes need your help switching over to meeting these needs outside the consulting room, so that therapy itself doesn’t become an (expensive) addiction for them. Therapy should be a solution, not part of their problem!

In no way am I suggesting that everyone who’s had therapy before is like this, but the ‘professional client’ will be recognizable to any therapist who has been around a while. And they may be quite unaware of the trap they have fallen into.

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Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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