Managing Challenges with Difficult Situations and Clients

Psychotherapy is a complex profession with a range of unique and trivial challenges. It involves disclosing parts of people's lives that they keep hidden from the rest of the world, and the therapist becomes the sole ear of this incredibly private affair. An effective therapeutic relationship is one where the client experiences little resistance to self-disclosure. This means that what they do disclose might be something other than what the therapist is prepared to handle.

The Sensitive Nature of Psychotherapy

As discussed above, along with the nature of psychotherapy to be intrinsically very sensitive, therapists often have to handle situations they are not prepared for through formalized training.

The following settings which pose a challenge to the flow of therapy and need to be effectively navigated by the therapist −

  • Working with hostile and violent patients.

  • Working with criminals and involvement of law.

  • Working with children and other minors.

  • Working with Hostile and Violent Patients

Hostile and violent patients can be defined as those who display aggression, verbal or physical abuse, or threats of harm toward others. These patients may have a history of violence, be unwilling to participate in therapy, or not adhere to treatment. They can also suffer from certain mental illnesses, such as personality disorders, making them more prone to aggression and violence.

In working with hostile and violent patients, therapists must establish a therapeutic relationship, which is essential for the patient's treatment. This can be challenging as the patient may resist therapy, mistrust the therapist, or be unwilling to participate. Therapists must be aware of the patient's history and triggers and establish a rapport in a non-threatening way. The therapist must establish clear boundaries, ground rules, and consequences from the beginning of the therapy session. This can help to establish a sense of safety and control for both the therapist and the patient. If the patient becomes hostile or violent, the therapist should use de-escalation techniques to calm the situation, such as active listening and acknowledging the patient's feelings.

In cases of extreme violence or aggression, the therapist needs to have a plan for emergencies. This includes knowing how to contact security or emergency services and having a safe location to retreat if necessary. Additionally, therapists should seek supervision and support from colleagues to ensure they provide the best possible care for their patients. This can also help provide better continuity of care if the patient switches therapists.

Working with Criminals and Involvement of Law

The involvement of the law in therapy for criminal clients can take many forms. Criminal clients may be court-ordered to attend therapy as part of their sentence or probation, or they may seek therapy voluntarily to address underlying issues that contributed to their criminal behavior. One of the main challenges of working with criminal clients is addressing the issues that led to their criminal behavior while also addressing their mental health needs. This may involve working with a multidisciplinary team, including probation officers, social workers, and other healthcare professionals.

Therapists working with criminal clients should also be aware of the legal requirements and regulations that govern their work. This includes understanding the laws and regulations related to privacy, confidentiality, and mandatory reporting. For example, therapists may be required to report certain types of criminal behavior to the authorities or to share client information with probation officers or other members of the legal system. Additionally, therapists should be aware of the ethical considerations in working with criminal clients. For example, they should be aware of the potential for dual relationships, where the therapist may act as a witness or expert in a legal case.

Another important aspect of working with criminal clients is addressing the issues that led to their criminal behavior. This may include addressing trauma, mental health issues, or social and economic disadvantage. Therapists should work with the client to set goals for therapy and develop a treatment plan that addresses the specific issues that led to their criminal behavior.

Working with Minors and Children in Therapy

Working with minors in therapy can present several unique challenges, as children and adolescents have different developmental needs and abilities compared to adults. One issue that may arise is obtaining informed consent. Minors are not legally able to give their consent for therapy, so a parent or guardian must provide consent on their behalf. However, this can be complex, as the child may have different needs or wants than their parent or guardian. Additionally, in cases of abuse or neglect, the child may not feel safe discussing these issues with a parent or guardian and may be unable to provide fully informed consent.

The issue extends to maintaining confidentiality, as a parent might believe they have the right to know the details about their children. A child is entitled to the same right of confidentiality as an adult and thus should feel comfortable with self-disclosure. The therapist, however, can break confidentiality in certain cases where the child is planning to harm themselves or others.

Handling Difficult Situations

Client finds it Difficult to Open up in Therapy

The counselor should set the tone and demonstrate real compassion, patience, and understanding attitudes. If the counselor discovers that the client is unwilling to open up, he or she can assist the client by discussing neutral topics such as education, likes and dislikes, friends, and so on. The counselor should approach problem areas, such as family or love life, with sensitivity. The therapist can focus on more specific difficulties as the client becomes more at ease. Furthermore, counseling is not a recognized profession in India. People generally have bad preconceived conceptions about therapy, and it is not regarded as an acceptable element. This is the most difficult aspect of creating a positive relationship with clients.

Addressing Silences during Counseling Sessions

In such cases, the counselor should determine which of these scenarios is most likely to be experienced by the client. The counselor can reflect with the client to determine what caused the quiet. In some cases, the customer may need to be given time to ponder things through. In other cases, the therapist may need to break the quiet, assist the client, or change to another issue for the time being before returning to the important region. Given the uniqueness of each client, the varied challenges they encounter, as well as the processes of the session, no hard and fast rule can be implemented.

Handling Situations where Clients Cry

Many therapists find it difficult to attend to clients who start crying during a session. Their instinct is to signal to the customer, "Please, do not cry; it is not so horrible." This is an improper reaction. The counselor should not be embarrassed by a client's tears. The tears are evidence of the client's trust, which he is willing to share with the therapist. Allowing the client to express his feelings and allowing the tears to flow would be an acceptable reaction from the counselor. The therapist should not wait for the client to cease sobbing. This would bring immediate attention to the client's reaction, making the client feel uncomfortable for sobbing. The counselor might continue the conversation in a gentler tone.

Clients show an Excessive and Inappropriate Emotional Reaction

Sometimes, a client will exhibit inappropriate emotions for the setting. A client may cry without provocation or express rage or other emotions to a larger extent than the scenario requires or calls for. When dealing with such circumstances, it is typically preferable to let clients exhaust themselves independently. The therapist can then gently but firmly investigate the causes of the outburst and assist the client in understanding the inappropriateness of the behavior. Sometimes, in specific instances, the counselor may want to stop the display of emotion. This may be important in circumstances where the emotions look histrionic, out of control or when recurrent manifestations of emotions interfere with the development of the sessions.


These topics can be emotionally charged, and clients may resist discussing them. Therapists must be able to navigate these sensitive topics with tact and sensitivity by building a strong therapeutic alliance, creating a safe and non-judgmental space, and using different therapeutic techniques. Through this process, therapists can help clients to explore and process these feelings healthily.