Whenever I am meeting a new client, I always ask, “How can I help?” Whenever I meet with students (my own psychology students, counseling students, interns), I ask them, “how can I help?” In my 25+ years in the helping profession, I have found I get the most out of asking how I can help rather than asking people what’s wrong. The other plus to this phrase is you can use it your personal life, as well as your professional life.
Now, if you think about the importance of the words we use, I am building rapport, getting information and showing concern all with one simple sentence. As a counselor, clinical social worker, psychologist, etc., it is not our job to fix other people’s problems. It is our job to help guide, encourage and support clients in making changes to improve their own lives. We can’t be responsible for what clients do when they leave our office, but we can encourage them to take our concerns and voices with them as a support or comfort as they work through their concerns with us. They have to do the work, therefore, they get the credit or responsibility for the ultimate outcome.
The most important issue here is to be caring about our clients and be willing to be as helpful as possible with their journey, but not to take responsibility for things that are outside of our control. We can’t “fix it”, but we can help. So, however you go about this process, be cautious of your words. You are setting up your role in this relationship and you are also setting boundaries. Make sure you that you are clear with both of these issues. “How can I help?” is just a suggestion that has worked for me for many years. I would be glad to hear what works for you!