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What To Do When Your Client Offloads Their Emotional Junk On You

Personal trainers are the new bartenders of this world. These days when someone  has a problem they don’t run to the local pub and dump it on the bartender, they offload on to their personal trainer. And while you are amazing at giving clients everything they need to be their physical best, you might not know how to respond when clients start talking about their relationship problems, stresses, anxiety or depression; and it can put you in a really uncomfortable and tricky position. A client may divulge their marriage is falling apart, their sister is terminally ill or that their self esteem is at an all time love, and you’re standing there thinking “I don’t know what to do with this? I don’t know what to say”. And boom you have just become a therapist, and your client leaves feeling better because they’ve just  dumped on you, but you leave the session feeling tired and drained.

Following are five tips to use next time a client goes for the emotional outpour so that boundaries are maintained and you stay sane.

1. Reflect back to them what they just told you. If a client says “my husband just doesn’t listen and it’s so frustrating! He just watches footy, gives me nothing and I’m getting really sick of it”, reflect back “uh huh, so you’re feeling frustrated because your husband’s not listening to you, is that right?”. That statement alone will make your client feel heard, validated and understood and is enough to stop the conversation going unnecessarily further.

2. Say at the start of the session “let’s do 10 minutes of warm up and a weekly vent, and then let’s focus on getting you fit”. When the warm up is over with a smile in your voice say “ok warm up and vent done, now it’s training time”.

3. People often vent because they don’t know what to do and feel stuck in a situation. So put it back in their court. Ask questions like “what can you do to feel better right now?”, “what is a way you can improve the situation?”, “what can you do to support yourself?”. These questions encourage the client to find their own solutions, feel more empowered and it takes the pressure off you.

4. You could even be bold and say “ok, right now what I want you to do is be present in this moment, and concentrate only on your personal training”. This will stop them talking, it will bring them into the present moment and it will lessen their negative state.

5. Make sure that when the session is over you’re not left with the emotional baggage. Have a ritual that stops you from taking that energy home. When I worked in a psychiatric hospital I made sure that every day when I walked out those hospital doors I visualised leaving all heaviness and negative energy inside the hospital. If you’re in the gym, maybe do a few jumps to release any residual negativity. If you’re outdoors drop a weight on the ground to symbolise you dropping any heavy energy; or do whatever works for you.

Finally, refer them on if it’s a recurrent theme or more than you want to handle. You are not paid to be their personal emotional problem solver, let the experts do that. Inform them about some psychologists, life coaches or counsellors that they can access and get back to enjoying your sessions.

Article by Vanessa Aitken. Vanessa is a qualified Life Coach with a special interest in stress and anxiety. She is Melbourne based and consults one-on-one with clients over the phone or via Skype. Take The Stress Test here, or to connect with Vanessa click here.

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