Sometimes Clients Are The Best Teachers

5 years ago

I used to get the strangest reactions from people when I told them I was a substance abuse therapist. Usually it went something like this:

"Oh my, God bless you."

"Oh, that must be so hard. What amazing work you do."

"Really? So what are they like?"

"What's the craziest thing anyone has ever done?"

"Has anyone ever threatened you?"

My personal favorite was from my mortgage consultant when I refinanced my house. She said, "Boy, it takes a different sort of bird to do that kind of work." Um, thanks?

Most assumed my clients were uncaring, irresponsible, manipulative, violent liars. A few people actually said what the rest were really thinking. "How do you work with THOSE people?"

Let's be real. I've had clients who, even when sober, were uncaring, irresponsible, manipulative, violent liars. However, most were not. In fact, some of them were more kind and compassionate than the people judging them could ever hope to be.

I'm reflecting on all of this because one of my former clients passed away recently. Occasionally, I would get a client who I couldn't help but get attached to, and this client was one of them. He was my client for three and a half years. Even on my bad days when I dreaded seeing every client on my schedule, I didn't dread seeing him. He was a very sweet, gentle soul that never quite figured out how to maneuver in an often cold, uncaring world. I worked with 'those people' because of clients like him.

When I left my job ten months ago with no real plan other than to take time off, most people were outwardly supportive but inwardly wondering what the hell I was doing. Not surprisingly, this client was one of the few who got it. He was sad and scared to be losing me as his therapist, but he took the news well. During our very last session, he gave me a good-bye card and officially became the only client in ten years to ever make me cry. The front of the card read:

Take Care of Yourself

There's a time for helping and giving,

and there's a time for slowing down and pulling back...


And on the inside:

This is your time

to take good care of yourself

and to remind yourself

how special you are


On the inside he wrote:

Best regards and sincere thanks. Hope life treats you well. Good luck.

Knowing him he probably spent two hours in the store searching for the perfect card. He's the one that should get the sincere thanks. My hope for him is that, now that he's in spirit, he finally realizes how special he is.


Re-posted from Amanda's blog at


"Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth." - Buddha


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