Quick Tips for Therapists

How to Connect with a Client Who Is Detached In Session

By Richard Brouillette, LCSW


Detachment is a common issue, often a means for the client to protect those vulnerable feelings which may come out in session.

Self-talk involves tools that are common to schema therapy, internal family systems, and chairwork, and helps the client take a new position outside of the detached self.


You’ll need an extra chair for the client, and if they’re working online, they will need an extra chair. Here are some ways to approach the client:

“It looks like detached-you has decided to join us today, what do you think?”

“Maybe we can try to do a little chairwork and see if it’s true. So, if it’s okay with you, we’re going to have you switch to the other chair in a second. Right now, detached-you is sitting where you’re sitting now. And when we switch, I want you to get up from that chair, and leave detached-you sitting there, and when you sit in the second chair, you’re going to be feeling-you, the person who wants therapy. Is that okay? Alright, let’s switch.”

(To client in second chair) “It’s good to see you! Let’s take a look over at detached-you. I know we’ve talked before about how detaching can help keep some distance from emotions, which feels safer. You think that’s happening with them? What do you see?”


When the client can speak about their detached part, all sorts of amazing material can come out:

· “He’s uptight all the time, and I hate him for it.”

· “She’s had a long week, and thinks that if she opens up now, she won’t be able to pull it back together later.”

· “He feels more control this way and needs to know that he’s in control. Bad things happen when you’re not in control.”

Once you get here with the client, you’re home free; you can start exploring their concerns, and you’ve sidestepped the detachment.

Richard Brouillette, LCSW, is a certified schema therapist who works with entrepreneurs, creatives, and professionals seeking to overcome anxiety, find fulfillment, and improve their relationships. Brouillette has been published in The New York Times and PsychCentral, and is a Psychology Today expert opinion blogger. Brouillette is a former Secretary of the Executive Board of the International Society for Schema Therapy.

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Quick Tips for Therapists