When working with a therapist who holds similar identities, interests, or geographical location, the chance of you, the client, running into them outside of session greatly increases. While the virtual or in-person counseling room offers privacy and containment for the therapeutic process, there world outside keeps turning. So, what happens if a client and therapist unexpectedly run into each other at an event? On the street? At the airport?
While interning and working for the Colorado AIDS Project, I and other staff members were often encouraged to volunteer for, participate in, or attend various fundraising and outreach events. I loved borrowing my co-worker's rainbow bronzer, as we'd proudly march in Denver's PRIDE parade. I looked forward to managing a booth at the annual AIDS Walk or offering water to the participants. I enjoyed looking fancy while attending the RED Ball each winter.
In preparation for all of these larger events, I would review my "Therapist in the Wild" policy with my clients at the time. I would let them know that, if we happened to see each other outside of session, then:
As the therapist, it is my responsibility to maintain your confidentiality. Therefore, I am not allowed to and will not approach you in public. I may smile at you in passing, but I must be careful to not do anything to compromise your confidentiality as my client in any way.
I would then further emphasize it is not my intent to ignore or minimize the importance of our therapeutic alliance; rather, my intent is protection. I would also add:
If you, the client, wish to approach me and say Hello, then you are allowed to do so. You are knowingly risking the potential of others finding out that you are in therapy and I am your clinician.
And if I am with other people at that time:
I will not introduce you, my client, to them. Again, in order to protect the therapist-client confidentiality. I also warn that I may seem awkward in person and mostly smile, as I cannot discuss anything our therapeutic relationship or work together.
Although I no longer work for large organization, there is a still a chance that I my clients and I might cross paths outside of the counseling room. When a therapist serves the communities they are part of, or learn they hold similar hobbies or interests with their clients, it is important to be thoughtful about how to honor and protect the therapeutic alliance when out in the wild.
Do you have questions, concerns, or curiosities? Are you interested in becoming a client? Contact me directly by emailing Amanda@livingstorytherapy.com or click the Get Connected button above to submit a consultation request form.