Anyone who works in a helping profession interacts with clients on a daily basis. But are you empowering them? And why is that even important? Empowering them to do what?
When a client comes to you, that means they are looking for answers, a solution to a problem they cannot solve. That could be lack of a diagnosis, a physical problem they just can’t get rid of, or an awful feeling that has invaded their life.
The details are less important. The main event is that they need your help now.
But the tricky thing is that you will not always be with them. You won’t go home with them, and you certainly won’t be able to go to the specialist with them, or argue with the secretary, or call the insurance company for them.
However, once they leave your office, those are the places they will need to go.
So how to do you “help” them even when you are not with them?
Simply put, empower means to enable or permit. Literally, you give the power to someone to actualize something for themselves. In our context, that means that you give over tools/feelings/skills to your client that allows them to access their internal power, to, well, get the job done.
Case in point.
I have a client who I’ve known for quite a while. Being widowed at a young age, experiencing abusive relationships, and raising a child with a mental illness have all weakened her self esteem. She once came to me with a letter from the tax authority she had received six months prior but had been too afraid to open.
“I don’t want to know what they’ll tell me,” she had said.
The other day she sent me a photo of an opened letter she’d just received from Bituach Leumi (National Insurance).
She wrote to me, “Now I open letters! I’m not scared anymore of what I will find. I know I’ll be able to handle it.”
That is empowerment! It began with an interaction with me, but now she independently feels that she can manage the situation.
So how do we do empower our clients? Here are 3 crucial steps:
Remember that they are capable protagonists of their own lives, even if they appear helpless and dependent.
What do I mean by that? When someone comes to us for help, they are obviously not at their best. They often feel helpless, isolated, and powerless. They cannot envision themselves the situation differently.
That is why it is so crucial that every time you interact with them, in your mind, you must hold on to the image of them as independent agents. Slowly, they will absorb your vision, but you need to hold on to that image, for them.
Provide them with bite-size actions that they can accomplish.
Success breeds success. Help them break down decision making, even if it comes down to “Call the doctor’s office on Tuesday and leave a message.” Once your clients feel acheivement, they will want to pursue that feeling again.
Praise and reinforce their accomplishments.
I cannot stress this enough. When someone comes to you for help, the power dynamic is not equal. It doesn’t matter if the person sitting in front of you is a bestselling author or a successful banker. If they come to you with a struggle, you are holding the cards.
I have seen too many practitioners unknowingly diminish their clients’ self-worth by questioning their actions or saying, “why didn’t you…”? In these situations, you need to reaffirm the tiny victories, “Amazing that you asked the doctor for the prescription!” and not “You really need to NOT miss three of your physiotherapy appointments.”
Just like, as parents, we need to provide our children with the tools to one day go out into the world and fend for themselves, the same is true for all of us who help others.
Our goal is to provide them with the feeling and skills to know they can go out into the world and get the job done. That is real empowerment.
Letting them reach the top of the mountain, themselves.