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Supporting Your Clients’ Emotional Needs

Updated: May 19, 2023


As coaches and exercise professionals, you are in the unique position to accompany our clients through the ups and downs of their lives. What a gift it is to be with them in the moments of success– that first 5k, a successful week of workouts, the discovery of a new physical activity. It’s fun to be included in the celebration and to cheer them on.

But lasting relationships include the whole of a person’s experiences – the losses, challenges, fears, and anxieties. To truly support our clients in achieving their goals (big and small), we need to have the skills to be present to a range of feelings. It’s easy to smile along with clients when they are happy; we are well-versed in affirmative statements and high-fives.

The not-so-happy feelings, however, can feel intimidating – even scary. We can be tempted to avoid (change the subject), change the channel (try to talk them into feeling better), or hyper-focus (fix it/them).

Here are some strategies that will prepare you for creating a connecting space with your clients without letting those “negative” feelings swallow you both whole.

1. Don’t mix up your story with theirs. When someone is suffering, it’s human nature to be reminded of the similar ways we’ve experienced the same feelings. We might recall when we went through the same circumstances. Take a breath and shift your focus to their story and their circumstances. Your story isn’t the antidote to their pain.

2. Make a guess. Most people don’t want or need to, be “rescued” from their feelings, they want to be heard. Sometimes, all it takes for the intensity of a feeling to be reduced if for it to be named. Take a guess about what your client is feeling and ask them about it. “Are you feeling disappointed?” or “It sounds like you are feeling anxious” gives them an invitation to say what they are experiencing. Most importantly, don’t rush past this. Discomfort is okay and part of working with humans.

3. Ask what they need. Your client knows best about what is helpful, and unhelpful, to them. Allow time in the conversation to explore strategies. Resist the temptation to take over and be the hero. Your client has ideas and experiences to draw from; encourage their ideas and their capability to find a resolution if there is one.

4. Let it go out the door. As a caring professional this can be the most difficult step – letting go of the need to take responsibility or fix it. When your time with your client is over, allow yourself to release any of your own intense emotions. Step away, take a breath, find whatever you need to reconnect with your work, and be fully present for your next client. Steps 2 and 3 above can be useful for you too!

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