Quick Tips for Therapists

How to handle clients who cry uncontrollably in session

By Emma Lauer

We ask our clients to make themselves vulnerable and share their most painful experiences, which sometimes means having a client in your office who is experiencing hyperarousal and crying uncontrollably. Here are tips for handling this situational in a way that is both delicate and helpful:

  • Tip 1: Attune to your client and validate as best you can with both your body and words.
    Show that you are open and there for them with your body language. Lean forward in your chair; keep your arms open and look at your client. Provide comfort with your voice, perhaps saying something like, “Oh, Sarah,” or “I’m so sorry,” keeping your tone gentle and soft. After a few moments, without jumping in too quickly, validate their pain by saying something like, “I know this experience has been incredibly painful for you.”
  • Tip 2: Let them cry it out. We teach our clients that emotions are like waves:
    they hit a peak and then crash; they’re never permanent and we just need to ride them out. Let your client ride the wave. If we provide a safe place for them to do this, we are helping our clients learn that they can safely feel the full breadth of their emotions without necessarily acting on them in a way that is harmful.
  • Tip 3: Help them ground and make sure they feel safe before they leave the session.
    Eventually, without jumping in too quickly so as not to seem like you’re trying to “fix” their emotion, offer your client something to help them feel more grounded and calm. This can be a deep breathing exercise, or using their senses to ground by mindfully noticing something they can smell, taste, see, or feel.

Emma Lauer, LCSW, is a therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, self-harming behaviors, and trauma. Emma is an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)-certified therapist, and has taught at Arizona State University. She currently practices therapy and oversees interns and other staff therapists as clinical supervisor at Find Your Shine Therapy, a group private practice in Tempe, AZ.

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Quick Tips for Therapists