Counselling Dilemma: A Client Who Tells Offensive Jokes
You have a client of the opposite sex who is coming to see you weekly about problems with family and social relationships. He/she has been attending sessions with you for two months and seems likely to be a long-term client. Although initially very quiet and reluctant to discuss issues, you have succeeded in gaining his/her confidence.
The sessions are proceeding well, but as the client is leaving each week he/she always tells you a couple of jokes of a kind which you find offensive. While not wanting to upset the client you are finding this situation increasingly uncomfortable.
How would you deal with this dilemma?
I would tell the client that his/her jokes are offensive to me and that these sorts of things can often become barriers to having successful social relationships, whether they are professional or otherwise. Considering that this client is having problems with social and family relationships, it would be beneficial for him to hear this, as it would make him think about his behaviour when in the company of others.
?X, you know how we have been talking about what kinds of things can be barriers to you having successful social relationships with others and family members? Well, these jokes that you tell are actually quite offensive to me, and I would prefer it if you didn?t tell them to me. This is an example of the kind of behaviour that can become a barrier to having meaningful relationships with others. Our sessions have been making some great progress, however I do feel uncomfortable when you share these inappropriate jokes with me afterwards.?
I would imagine that the client would respond positively to this, as I am not just confronting him about his behaviour without showing him the benefits of changing the offensive behaviour.
Action: At the conclusion of the next session I would pre-empt the client getting ready to tell another joke and politely inform her that I would prefer that she refrain from sharing jokes that are in anyway discriminatory, have sexual insinuations, and/or are degrading to gender, race or culture whilst she is a client of mine.
However, I would still be open to any jokes that could be repeated in mixed company or at the dinner table with young children.
Support: Consult with my supervisor and/or colleague and ensure it is on record in both client notes and the meeting with supervisor/colleague that I requested support and that I had advised the client to refrain before hearing another offensive joke.
Code of Conduct and Ethics: According to one code of conduct ? Australian Counselling Association: code 2.5.1 ?Counsellors are responsible for setting and monitoring boundaries throughout the counselling sessions and will make explicit to clients that counselling is a formal and contracted relationship and nothing else? (dated from 15/4/2005)
I would explain that if the other person is not laughing it is not funny.
Not a counsellor yet but I would ask what effect is he/she trying to get from telling the jokes. A feeling of what? A defense mechanism? To divert conversation? A nervous habit when feeling uncomfortable? To appear funny and amusing and deflect away from real feelings?
The first thought that came to my mind was that the counsellor should have made the client aware that the counsellor found the jokes offensive when the client told the first offensive joke. The counsellor has created the ‘increasingly uncomfortable’ situation by letting the client think that the offensive jokes were OK. Whilst a difficult issue when establishing a relationship with a new client, I believe one that would have been best dealt with immediately that the situation arose.
I feel that the issue should be addressed as soon as possible. Anything that makes the counsellor feel uncomfortable is bound to have an impact on the counselling relationship.
Since the general feeling is that this client will be a long term client, it is best to deal with it before it gets out of hand.
For me, in the next session I would explore the reasons why this client feels the need to do this. For example ” at the end of every session, you tell a joke and this makes me feel uncomfortable. How do you think we can deal with this?” and see what happens from there. It may be the client using humour to deal with their emotions or discomfort at the end of a session.
As the client was leaving I would reassure him that the sessions are proceeding well and we are beginning to deal with his situation/feelings in a positive manner.
In a kind but firm way, I would add that I am not a person who relishes the type of jokes he tells and would appreciate it if he does not continue with them.
I would finish with “John/Peter/Joe I feel you tell these jokes in order to capture my attention and secure a friendly relationship with me. Although I like you, our relationship is a professional one and needs to remain that way. However, I want to impress the fact, that I think you are a decent and realistic person who has a lot to offer others and that I look forward to our next session where we could discuss the “joke issue” further if he would like to.
I would then shake his hand and say “see you at your next appointment”.