Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ask the Doc - What should I do when I see my therapist in public?

Q. - I was out for a drink the other night, and saw my therapist at a nearby table. Should I have said hello? Should she have waved? What are the rules for this kind of thing?

A. - I work at a small college. A walk across campus often puts me in the path of one of my clients. Sometimes they are alone, but more often they're with a group of friends. And even though I live in a city that has over a million people in the metropolitan area, I see clients out and around more often than you'd think.

This is one of the times that my usual social reactions aren't necessarily the best solution. While I am happy to say hi to a client, or stop and chat if they'd like, I'm aware that they might not want to answer their friends' questions about who I am (or more likely, "where do you know that old guy from?"). Some of my clients proudly tell their friends that they're in therapy; others feel that it's between them and their therapist.

With this in mind, I've got a simple rule of thumb - I just ask my clients to say hello first. We talk about this during our first session, as part of our "informed consent." That way, if they'd like to chat, they can let me know that in a comfortable way. If they'd like to keep our relationship on the down-low, they can do so just as comfortably.

As with everything in our therapeutic relationship, I want things to be about them, not about me. And my desire for social interaction is just that - MY desire. I want them to be able to choose. After that first public encounter, we'll talk about in our next session. My clients will often let me know that it's fine to say hello, and I'll do so next time. That should be YOUR call with your therapist, not theirs. No matter what your decision, it's important that you have the power to choose.


  1. I appreciated your approach (it makes sense!) though it is not what I have experienced. Kudos. :)

  2. I met an ex-therapist twice in public settings. Both times I said hi and he ignored me. That felt pretty crummy. I like your way of deciding way better.

  3. Oh yay. This was excellently useful, especially in timing, as my practicum placement has assigned me my Very First For-Real Client and thus these things are very much on my mind. Thank you! :)

  4. Your blog makes me wish you were my therapist.