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Helping Clients Overcome Feelings of Apathy as a Therapist

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Almost everyone will experience a bout of apathy from time to time, whether that feeling comes during a long morning commute or persists over many weeks. Yet even though apathy is a well-known feeling, there are many aspects to this complex emotion that are still being researched and investigated.

While several aspects of apathy still remain a mystery, the effect it can have on a client are well known. Apathy can impact everything from a client’s personal hygiene to their work, studies, health, personal relationships, and more. As a result, helping clients overcome apathy can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

Here are some strategies you can use when working with apathetic clients.

Examining the Source of a Client’s Apathy

One of the first steps to helping a client overcome apathy is to assist them in identifying the source of their feelings (Seltzer, L. Ph.D., 2016). For many clients, feelings of apathy can come about after they experience rejection, failure, or setbacks that leave them feeling discouraged about the future and their own abilities (Seltzer, L. Ph.D., 2016). Perhaps a client was passed up for a promotion, and now feels unmotivated about their career. A client may have faced rejection when trying to meet new friends, leaving them feeling as if all future efforts will lead to the same results. Some might even feel apathetic due to current events, as they wonder whether any action on their part can truly make a difference with regards to eliminating poverty, tackling climate change, and more.

Negative events can often lead to feelings of apathy

Negative events can often lead to feelings of apathy

In other cases, a single event might not necessarily be the cause of a client’s apathy. Rather, a client might feel trapped in a routine they don’t enjoy, or feel stuck at a dead-end job that doesn’t bring them satisfaction (GoodTherapy.org, 2016). Apathy may even be a symptom of a mental illness such as anxiety, depression, or dementia, which will necessitate diagnosis and intervention by other mental health professionals (GoodTherapy.org, 2016).

Using Positive Psychology to Help Clients Overcome Apathy

Because apathy can often be tied to feelings of despair and low self-esteem, positive psychology can be a particularly powerful tool in helping clients regain motivation (GoodTherapy.org, 2016). Graduates of part time counselling courses know that positive psychology involves focusing on a client’s strengths, rather than on faults or weaknesses. For this reason, many techniques used in positive psychology can be especially useful for apathetic clients. Encouraging a client to keep a gratitude journal, savour simple pleasures in their day-to-day life, and more can help them regain optimism and feel more motivated to undertake meaningful change (Esposito, L., 2014).

Positive psychology can be a powerful tool for change

Positive psychology can be a powerful tool for change

Helping Clients Make Small Changes

Of course, those who study life skills counselling online know that it is often best to encourage apathetic clients to begin with small goals before progressing to bigger changes.

One recent study by the University of Oxford discovered, for example, that when trying to take action, the “brains [of apathetic individuals] actually showed more activity than in motivated individuals.” (University of Oxford, 2015). This suggests that for some people who feel apathetic, taking action or making decisions might actually take a bit more energy (University of Oxford, 2015). As a result, overcoming apathy is often best tackled through small steps that are easier to manage.

Whether encouraging a client to investigate a new hobby in order to shake up their routine, or try a short work-out program, small goals can be easier for clients to complete. As clients enjoy a sense of accomplishment from these early tasks, they can then begin breaking large goals into smaller manageable ones, which they can then tackle one at a time. In this way, counsellors can help clients ultimately make a career change, feel healthier, advocate for a cause that matters to them, or simply feel empowered, passionate, and content.

Are you looking to make the change to a rewarding career helping others?

Discover how you can complete your life skill counselling certificate online at Rhodes Wellness College.

Works Cited

Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders (2017) Apathy. Retrieved December 27, 2017, from http://www.minddisorders.com/A-Br/Apathy.html

Esposito, L. (2014, September 22) Ten Positive Psychology Practices for Boosting Happiness. Retrieved December 27, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-zen/201409/ten-positive-psychology-practices-boosting-happiness

GoodTherapy.org (2016, August 1) Apathy. Retrieved December 27, 2017, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/apathy

Seltzer, L. Ph.D. (2016, April 26) The Curse of Apathy: Sources and Solutions. Retrieved December 27, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201604/the-curse-apathy-sources -and-solutions

University of Oxford (2015, November 13) Brain structure may be root of apathy. Retrieved December 27, 2017, from http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2015-11-13-brain-structure-may-be-root-apathy-1

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