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We all face it at one point or another in our career… 

While most clients you’ll see throughout your career will be wonderful, you’ll most likely experience some who aren’t so pleasant to work with. And then there’s that very small portion who push you to the point of having to terminate the therapist/client relationship. It’s never fun. Most of the time it isn’t easy. But it is crucial to have a solid understanding of how to terminate the relationship in a way that is professional and honors your boundaries, comfort level, and safety. 

There are a number of reasons you may seek to terminate your professional relationship with a client, but the biggest reason among therapists seems to be a lack of respect for boundaries. Whether that involves chronic late arrivals, no shows, sexual advances, or any other type of behavior that disrespects you. One of the most common questions on this subject is “How do I know if it’s time to fire a client?” 

If you’re asking yourself that question about any client, it’s probably time. 

While our number one priority is always to ensure the safety of the client, that does not mean we disregard our own safety. We also strive to respect our clients’ dignity and comfort; but we shouldn’t forget our own dignity and comfort as well. Just because we are healthcare professionals and/or service providers, does not mean that we must work on every single person who requests a massage regardless of our own concerns about our wellbeing. 

It is also important to keep your own safety and comfort above the need for the cash. I know as a new therapist it can be difficult to turn away a client when you’re trying so hard to build your clientele, but if someone makes you uncomfortable, is pushing boundaries, or disrespects you and your time, then you have to ask yourself; “Is this the type of clientele I want?”  If the answer is no, then fire the client. Your clientele, even from the beginning of your practice, needs to be made up of people that respect you, and those that you want on your table over and over again. 

I’m not suggesting that you pick and choose only those clients with whom you get along with perfectly. What I am suggesting is that if you catch yourself dreading seeing a certain client’s name on the schedule, or you can’t wait for a session to end because they’ve said something inappropriate, you need to think about the true reason for those feelings and then consider terminating that client. Maybe they’ve made jokes or said things that have made you uncomfortable, they continue to show up late and demand the full time, or they continually express disappointment in your capabilities because you weren’t able to fix in one hour the results of 40 years of terrible habits. Although every situation is different, generally speaking, there are a few questions you can ask yourself that will make it clearer as to the path you should choose. 

Do I fear for my safety? 

  • If you answer yes, then the obvious choice is to fire them. 
  • If the answer is no, then ask these other questions to dig a bit deeper. 

Is it their behavior that I take issue with? 

  • There is a big difference between not liking a client’s personality and a client whose behavior is creating a problem. You need to distinguish the difference. 

Why does that behavior bother me? 

  • Be sure you’re not misreading a situation due to your own life experience (i.e. countertransference), but if the issue rests solely on the shoulders of the client, then you might consider termination. 

 And lastly… 

How would I feel if this client never came back? 

  • If the thought of never having to see that client walk through your door is a relief to you, then it might be time to fire them. 

BOUNDARIES 

Boundaries are a vital aspect to our daily personal and professional lives. It’s how we determine what behavior we will and will not allow from others. You’ve probably had the idea of boundaries drilled into your head from the start of massage school, plus the years of continuing education in ethics that follows, but it can never be expressed enough. BOUNDARIES ARE CRUCIAL! If you don’t have clear boundaries, you’re leaving the door open for a number of ethical dilemmas. Setting those boundaries is going to make it much easier when it comes time to fire a client. 

What kind of conversation is inappropriate during treatment? How far up on the thighs are you willing to work? How late will you allow a client to be before you refuse to see them? How many no shows before you require a credit card on file or flat out fire them? There are numerous situations to think about, but covering some of the basics by answering these questions will allow you to know beyond a doubt that a client has crossed the line and that it’s time to consider termination. 

By answering these questions, you can also begin to develop your policies. The policies you put into place will not only give a guideline for acceptable behavior, but will also force your clients to be responsible for their behavior. Once you have them sign a policy form, they’re bound by those guidelines. If they break them, you then have a reference of why you’re terminating them as a client. They agreed to those policies, and if their behavior doesn’t match, then it’s time for them to go. 

REFERRING OUT 

Terminating the professional relationship isn’t just about a client who doesn’t respect your boundaries. There are times when you might send a client to another therapist because you can’t provide the treatment they need, your personalities don’t work well together, or they’re not progressing and might benefit from another perspective. There are a number of situations where you may have a client that just doesn’t work out and it’s best to send them to another therapist instead of just riding it out and hoping for the best. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a therapist. It simply means that you were capable of recognizing that the best thing for the client was to seek help elsewhere. Remember, we put our clients first, and sometimes that means that we must take a step back, drop our ego, and do what is best for them. 

Whatever the reason, you have the right to work only on those you’re comfortable with (obviously not including discriminatory factors). Don’t be too scared to do what is best for you and your business. Build the clientele that works for you; the one that makes you happy to come into work every day; the one that makes you love your job. 

If we don’t love our jobs, both what we do and who we do it for, then what’s the point? 

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