A look at the unique challenges of working with powerful and influential clients and strategies for success.
As a psychotherapist and mental health practitioner in Washington, DC and Maryland, I have spent the past 2 decades working closely with dozens of high-profile clients, including politicians, foreign diplomats, lobbyists, CEOs, elite athletes, and reality TV stars. Along the way, I have learned that high-profile clients face many of the same challenges that we face in our day-to-day lives—however, because of their power and influence, they often require an extra degree of accommodation that few therapists are prepared for.
To help give therapists a better understanding about what it is like to work with high-profile clients, I put together a list of some of the unique challenges I face and strategies to overcome them.
Know What You Are Getting Yourself Into
Before you begin working with a high-profile client, it is important to recognize that you will be working with a unique population of individuals who are often extremely wealthy, hold influential jobs or positions, and are constantly in the public’s eye. As a result, it is important to understand that their lifestyle is very different from your average Joe and will therefore require an extra degree of accommodation to protect their privacy and their busy schedule.
For example, many of the patients I work with do not work regular hours from Monday to Friday and often spend half of the year traveling for business. This can have a major impact on their family life and put pressure on their professional life. Other clients I work with have close relationships with some of Washington’s most powerful political families. This can impact who they invite into their social circle and limit what they can talk about. This can be a very isolating experience for many families, particularly if the family or individual they have a relationship with was only recently elected.
Do Your Research
Before you begin working with a high-profile client, make sure you actually know the person you are working with. It is easy to believe you know the issues your client faces by reading about them in the news; however, it is important to remember that most news stories are designed for entertainment purposes only. Knowing how to discern fact from fiction is critical to building trust between you and your client, and it will demonstrate that you care about who they are as a person, rather than who they are reported to be.
As part of your research, you should also have a good understanding of the world they live in. For example, if your client is a politician, it is important to understand their political background and how the electoral process works. If your client is a celebrity, you should know which movies they have appeared in so you understand references they make. It is also important to understand any of the black marks in your client’s life. For example, have they gone through a turbulent media frenzy before? If so, what was the issue and how did it impact them on both a professional and a personal level? Doing your research will help you develop a strong rapport with your client and ensure you understand the unique circumstances of their high-profile life.
Just like with any relationship in life, it is important to set boundaries. With high-profile clients, it is extremely important to have a sufficient nondisclosure agreement in place and have someone look over it because it needs to be ironclad. It is also important to have someone you can consult with outside of your practice. Whether it is another colleague with similar experiences or even an attorney, it is important to be able to consult with someone you can trust because working with high-profile clients can be extremely isolating. With that said, it is critical that whoever you consult with is legally obligated to protect your private conversations.
Treat Them as a Human—Not as a Celebrity
In order to establish a strong relationship with a high-profile client, it is important to treat them as an equal rather than someone of stature or influence. The best way to do this is to be honest with them. For example, they may ask you what you think of an article that was recently written about them. In response, you should be honest about how it made you feel, but also reassure them that you know it is not based on fact and it does not change your opinion of them. Being honest with them and sharing your opinion will show that you are being truly genuine with them, which can help establish a strong relationship built on trust.
Be Careful Not to Give Heroic Care
A lot of amateur therapists working with individuals of celebrity status want to rescue their clients. In many cases, they will rush to try and fix all their client’s problems at once so they themselves can be their client’s hero. Unfortunately, it does not work that way. If anything, by pursuing this course of action, you will actually do a disservice to the therapeutic process because, regardless of your client’s stature or profile, it takes time, commitment, and willingness to do the hard work to help them overcome their challenges.
Be Prepared for a Thorough Screening Process
Before you begin working for a high-profile client, you will likely have to go through a thorough screening process by a representative for your client or their executive assistant. This usually involves a plethora of questions for you to answer before you can talk to the individual. Most clients will not actually have you sign a nondisclosure agreement because the agreement with your medical practice should be sufficient.
Be Prepared for the Media
As a general rule, any time you are working with a high-profile client, assume the media is following them. With this in mind, one of the best ways to inhibit that potential exposure is to avoid doing your sessions in VIP suites and be careful with going to their home. Instead, try your best to conduct your sessions in your office at secluded times where the individual will feel their privacy is protected. It is also important to schedule a large buffer between patients so they can come and go in privacy.
Despite the added challenges, working with high-profile clients can be extremely rewarding if you are prepared for it. Taking the time to understand your client’s lifestyle and how this impacts them will help you provide them with the best possible care and help you become an even better therapist.
Mr Sheesley is a psychotherapist and mental health practitioner in Washington DC and Maryland with almost 20 years of experience in the field of clinical psychology and human behavior. He equips high-powered professionals, prominent couples, and families committed to healthy interpersonal relationships with personalized support, tailored treatment, and necessary steps to regain a balanced self that positively impacts all areas of life.
Individuals empowered by his proprietary approaches to psychotherapy and counseling include NBA stars, foreign diplomats, reality TV stars, managing partners and founders, lobbyists and Capitol Hill political influencers, and CEOs and CFOs from the top Fortune 500 companies. His specialties include schema therapy, psychological assessment, personality and human behavior, and addiction and substance use, all of which are rooted in comprehensive psychotherapy and mental health training from leading institutions nationwide, including McDaniel College, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Towson University, Drexel University, the Center for Cognitive & Behavioral Therapy of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Schema Therapy Institute.