I run a small outpatient clinic that treats mainly criminal justice clients. It seems like my counselors are always being manipulated by the clients. Every week there’s a PO on the phone complaining the counselor didn’t tell her about something the client did that violated the conditions of probation. When I ask the counselor they just give me the excuse the client gave them. How do I get them to act like professionals and set boundaries on these offenders?”

This is a big subject, beyond the scope of a blog post, but here’s where I’d start — with a simple assessment of how easy your staff members are to manipulate. Counselors and therapists are — and I’m generalizing shamelessly here, so forgive me — warm, empathetic, even sympathetic by nature. Folks who want to give the client the benefit of the doubt. Experience makes them savvy and aware. But that confidence in their own skepticism is what clients often use to manipulate them.

Have your staff try this little unscientific self-test:

  1. I find it very rewarding to help others.
  2. I tend to feel responsible for how things turn out.
  3. I never seem to have enough time to get things done.
  4. I can usually tell when someone isn’t telling the truth.
  5. I don’t like to compromise my values.
  6. I derive considerable personal satisfaction from my work.
  7. As long as the job gets done, I don’t care who gets the credit.
  8. I feel as if I can’t keep up with my obligations.
  9. I am skeptical of others’ motives.
  10. People know they can’t put one over on me.
  11. My work can be very satisfying.
  12. I am not by nature a selfish person.
  13. I really do need more time for myself.
  14. I like feeling committed to something in my life.
  15. I’m a sensible person who isn’t easy to fool.

Here’s a scoring key: Add up your totals in each category (1 for every yes answer).

  • Category One: Satisfaction in helping others 1, 6, 11
  • Category Two: Willingness to take on responsibility 2, 7, 12
  • Category Three: Overscheduled and sometimes overextended 3, 8, 13
  • Category Four: Believe you can tell when someone is manipulating you 4, 9, 14
  • Category Five: Desire to appear tough-minded 5, 10, 15

If your total score is more than 5, consider yourself relatively easy to manipulate – provided the person manipulating you is adept at it. But then, many of your clients are, right?

As usual, awareness is the first step. Once a counselor has identified his or her vulnerable points, it’s not difficult to make changes so as to become more difficult to manipulate.

Thanks for bringing this topic up. We’ll address it more formally later.