How to dump a coaching client – it’s not you it’s me

Ending a relationship with a client can be tricky. You don’t want to sour the hard work you’ve put in together and you don’t want to leave your client stranded. So here are our tips for ending the coach-client relationship professionally and sensitively

  1. Contract! Before you even start coaching your new client, you need to establish a coaching contract. This doesn’t need to be formally written and signed by both parties, but you must lay out the boundaries of the coaching relationship and establish a set number of sessions. Usually 6 is a good number to start with. You don’t want to get dragged into an infinite relationship with the client because it will only make them rely on you when they need to rely on themselves.
  2. If you feel at any point that you aren’t capable of coaching your client through a particular issue you must refer them to someone who can (of course you must get their permission. Do not break confidentiality!). This can happen if your client is exhibiting signs of needing care from the medical profession, psychologists, or counselors. Don’t bumble along thinking you can talk them through it if you really don’t think you can. Be honest with yourself and be honest with your client.
  3. They say: “I don’t want to see anyone else”. Stop and think about this. Has the professional relationship overlapped into something more? You are not their rent-a-friend and you must be wary of becoming one. It’s true that a client must feel rapport with the person they are working with but you are not the only person they can have that with. Part of the learning is to rely on themselves, if they need you in particular you may well have become a crutch. The best thing you can do in this situation is to extricate yourself sensitively. Explain to your client why you don’t feel you are the right person for them to see anymore and give them a few contacts that you think could help. Don’t just say “see someone else”. Names and details are important here. With the client’s permission you can discuss their situation with the person you have recommended to ease the transition.
  4. Talk to your supervisor. If you don’t have a supervisor, get one! (We can even help you with this if you like) Your supervisor will be able to help you spot these potential problems before they happen and advise you on what to do. It helps to talk this situation through with someone who knows the position you are in.
  5. Finally: make it a clean break. No you can’t still be friends, no they can’t call you when they feel down. I know you want to help and this may be the hardest of things to do but it’s necessary. If you keep the relationship going you will end up coaching them for free and it’ll be even harder to get out of the relationship because you’ll have shed your professional shell. In the long run you have ended the relationship for a reason, stick to it. Remain professional and respect the boundaries you set out to begin with.
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