What do you do when a client starts crying during a therapy session?

By Adria N. Pearson, Ph.D.

When clients get in touch with difficult emotions in session, crying is a normative behavioral reaction. At times, a client’s level of emotional distress may appear to escalate to an out-of-control level.

Notice your reaction to the client’s emotion, even the thought that it is out of control. If you want to control your client’s emotions, notice this urge and reorient to being with the client in that moment, sitting with him or her compassionately.

In order to assist the client in experiencing (versus avoiding) the intense emotion, remind him or her to breathe. If the client appears dissociated from the present moment, tell the client to look at you, and continue to sit with the client’s crying and emotion until the wave of intensity subsides.

Adria N. Pearson, Ph.D., received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno, and completed her internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System. Pearson is co-author of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Body Image Dissatisfactionand has presented at national conferences on the topic of body image and eating disorders and has written articles in peer-reviewed journals on mindfulness, acceptance, and trauma. She is currently an assistant professor at National Jewish Health.

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