top of page

"Client" or "Patient": What's in a Name?

Some psychologists tend to use “client” and “patient” interchangeably, but there’s an important difference between those terms. For example, a lawyer would never calls the people she assists “patients,” while a surgeon is unlikely to call the people he operates on “clients.”

The term “patient” implies someone in need of help who has no skills or strengths to resolve their issues. It suggests a high-to-low relationship of an expert who provides assistance and a person in need who receives that assistance.

By contrast, the term “client” suggests a more balanced relationship. It means there is a service provider with some specialized skill who offer guidance, but it is the client who provides direction to the working relationship and makes the final decisions.

In the context of therapy, some psychologists prefer to view those who come to them as patients, essentially disempowered and requiring an expert to help them change. Others view therapy as a collaborative process where the psychologist and the client work together to define and achieve the goals of the therapy. I prefer the second approach, to view and treat people in therapy as clients who bring their own unique strengths and insights to the work we do together.

For some clients, feelings of self-doubt may make it difficult to believe that they have something valuable to contribute to the therapeutic process. In those cases, in particular, it's essential for clients to learn that although sometimes it feels like they are the root of the problem, they are in fact a key part of the solution.

Recent Posts
bottom of page