“What Do You Say When...?”

Free 9-part Mini-Workshop

I’m excited that you’ve decided to join me for this free 9-part mini-workshop series where we’ll use the Developmental Model to tackle YOUR toughest moments. This will be helpful whether you’re just getting started or are an experienced couples therapist.

In this series you'll receive 6 articles, 1 video, and 2 live webinars.

You can follow most of this workshop on your schedule. But mark your calendar for August 17 at 12pm, and August 23 at 6:00pm, so you can attend our special live webinars.

What do you say when a client asks, “What is your success rate?”

Has this ever happened to you?

You get a phone call from a potential client who is seeking couples therapy.

You ask for some headlines about their situation. Then she asks, “What is your success rate?”

You know this is an impossible question. There are too many variables, most of which are out of your control.

On one hand the client is asking an understandable question. On the other hand, she’s asking it as if all the responsibility for fixing her marriage is on you. It’s not like you’re delivering a baby!

The client is really asking, “How good are you?” It is often a question that is passive in nature – meaning the client expects you to do most of the fixing with minimal effort from them.

If you respond back with, “What do you mean by success?” or, “What is your definition of success?” it will make you sound weak.

So how can you respond with clarity, competence, and integrity?

Here’s one possibility.

Simply say, “When any couple gets aligned on the outcome they want to create, my success rate is extremely high.”

And leave it at that.

The caller might continue, “And if our goals are not aligned?”

Then say, “I will work with you to see if you can support each other’s goals. If your goals never align and you are not willing to collaborate with one another, then my success with both partners goes down.”

Then ask if they’d like to schedule an appointment.

Helping clients take individual accountability is something therapists love about the Developmental Model. When you learn to respond this way confidently, it takes a lot of pressure off of you to do all the fixing. And you are setting the stage for the accountability that you know is required for substantial change to occur.

Take Action Now

In the commenting section below please share your feelings and experiences when asked, “What is your success rate?”
And I’d love to know if you have ideas for answering this question as well.

P.S. Mark your calendar for 6:00pm Pacific Time, August 23. Join us for our last live training session where Pete and I will roleplay your most difficult moments. Click here now to register.

27 responses to "Success Rate"

  1. I would also want to know who referred them or how they found me. If it was through a fridnd of theirs who had seen me, the conversatiin might be quite different depending on how highly the froend recommended me outvof their experience. Still, I really like those responses you offered and I use something like them myself though yours are short, elegant and more straight to the point while being cognisant of the possible motivation for the question. in answering as you did, you actually are doing a powerful pre session intervention. Really like this. I might also consider adding the precursor of “That’s a very inportant question and I’m glad you asked.”

  2. One of the responders has a really good point about welcoming questions about credentials and training. It got me reflecting on past experiences and why questions about credentials were off putting. It’s true, for clients, the mental health system and all the various clinicians working in it can be confusing to understand who it is they are seeing and what expectations can be met in the clinical work. IMO, Clinicians have an ethical obligation to discuss credentials along with proposed treatment as part of informed consent and establishing treatment goals.

    It was a great question- I love thinking about responders comments. I think my past experiences of the off-putting questions had to do with the timing (when in the course of therapy) of the clients comments and how the client delivered the question. A few clients liked to make personal attacks when confronted and asked to change group-therapy interfering behaviour. Sometimes the questions about credentials also reflected an “ageist” prejudice with malignant personality disorder. What to do when…the client is hostile towards the clinician or a coworker.

  3. I liked that answer also. It's very similar to mine. I used to feel taken aback and not know what to say.
    Some of the responders found being asked about credentials was off putting. I find that people get confused about the difference between MSW, LMHC, PhD and what it all means. I welcome questions about my credentials and experience. I'd want to know if I was seeking help in the confusing maze of mental health practitioners.

  4. Really like that answer which tells the couple the sessions are a collaboration and that it takes 2 – the couple and the therapist, to tango 🙂

  5. Being a new therapist I haven't worked with a lot of couples, and haven't received this direct question as of yet. But I like how your answer doesn't pose another question, rather encourages the couple that if they are willing and ready they can make therapy what they need it.
    I have received the question on my credentials, and that one I definitely felt I was justifying my ability as a new therapist. Having the script I'm hoping will help me in the future.

  6. That’s a great answer. I’ve been asked variants of that over the years, and I always feel so anxious, because I have felt that “success” has been impossible to measure. Do the people who leave your office seemingly changed and having newfound connection lose that after some months or years, and revert to old patterns? Or do couples who looked hopeless eventually do quite well because of seeds that got planted, but of course, We’d never know that. But when a prospective couple asks on the phone, before we have ever met, I have never before known how to answer the question. Thanks so much. This is a brilliant réponse, and it sets the stage for the work they will be expected to do.

  7. I love this answer. So simple and to the point – really expressing the importance of the client taking ownership in the counselling process while highlighting the impact their individual investment has on the outcome.

    I've never been asked about my success rate, but I do get the similar question of “Have you seen couples like us survive? Is there hope for us?” And I've always responded with something similar to “I've worked with couples with significant barriers and challenges who've found a deeper connection with and clearer understanding of their partner through couples counselling – anything is possible. But it is a lot of work, both individually and as a couple, commitment to the process and a willingness to push yourself are important factors in getting the most out of your sessions.”

    I never really knew why this type of question really made me feel “put on the spot”, but after reading this article I get it – it's because I feel as though all of the work is being put on me and that the expectation is that I will fix them. Thank you for providing a space for me to think about this more and to have a response that feels concise and honest.

  8. Thank you so much for doing this 9-part mini workshop to help folks like me learn how to work more effectively with couples! In response to this particular article, typically I've responded to this question by saying something like, “It depends on each partner's willingness to figure out what he or she each can do to make the relationship better.” Reading the article highlighted for me the importance of emphasizing that my role is to collaborate with the couple in achieving their own goals together and putting the responsibility for that on them! I do find myself putting out more effort with some couples! Your article was a good reminder to clarify whose responsible for what in therapy.

  9. I really like your answer. I think your answer is applicable beyond couples therapy and could be said to anyone wanting help with their mental health. I’m remembering clients who would ask this when they were doing group psychotherapy. It felt disconcerting to be asked how much clinical experience I had or questions around credentials. I got those questions when I was younger! :)). Sometimes it was narcissistic psychopathology. For others, I think clients are seeking a hopeful reassurance that things can change for the better (like a child seeking comfort from a parent). For that client they may be despairing, feel hopeless, helpless and powerless. A therapists’ hopeful stance is important but should be combined with what you identified- the client is the agent of change.

    Kind of like mountain climbing. Even if you have a Sherpa, you still have to use your own legs for the hike.

  10. I remember a long time ago a supervisor saying that there are 3 types of couples that come to therapy and to ask the couples in the 1st session, which one they are: 1. Couple is coming to therapy to stay together and will do anything it takes to do that. 2. Couple aren't sure if they want to stay together and are coming to therapy to try and see if they can make it work. 3. Couple has already decided they want to separate and are coming to you to see how they can do that amicably. Its kind of a good way to assess their motivation? Some clients like the bluntness of the question……

  11. I also love the answer. and I also was only ever asked this question in my very first months of being a practitioner. (They just know somehow!!) I saw a sign in a therapy office “One rule: Grow.” Success is measured basically by increased differentiation (says I), so I love the suggestion that the question itself is passive and puts the onus mostly on the therapist. (that gets me a lot less now than it used to) Now I answer similar questions with a genuine exuberance in doing the work and get real about it being hard and painful and beautiful. Telling people it's gonna suck but be really worth it usually gets things rolling in the right direction for me.

  12. I like the answer and better than what I've used in the past. I've told couples and individuals if they do the work I ask them to they will succeed. That doesn't include the accountability piece.

  13. I had a couple a while back come to see me as a last resort. They said their friends had said our therapy had saved their marriage. I felt under extreme pressure but I love Ellyn's description of success and I think it would have been very helpful to all to have told them that. Thank you for that, Ellyn!

  14. Thanks for sharing your answer! I basically give the same answer. Of course, quite often each of the couple has a general goal of having a more happy relationship, but disagree on what that means. That's more challenging for me and for them.

  15. I was a first year intern. I never saw a couple before. It was my first couple that asked, “So what is your success rate?” I had a wave of panic, and out of no where said, “It depends on the couple.” They accepted my answer. I like your way of responding much more!

  16. As a very new therapist, this is a helpful reminder that this work is collaborative. The answer you provided really shifts some of the pressure onto the couple to be in it for each other. It also made me think about ways that I can communicate this to new couples from the get go, in order to set their expectations for our work together.

  17. I have been asked several times, and my response has been similar to yours, Ellen. I tell them that they, as a couple, are co-creators of what they want to see improve in their marriage. My role is to guide them through the process as they invest in their process.

  18. I have not been asked this question in such a direct way, but close to it! Your response is gentle but carries an important message–what they invest is key. Thanks!

  19. Mike,Keith,Dagmar,Jonathan, Chris and Bernie – Thanks for your comments. I'll be reading everyones comments for all 9-parts of this mini-series. I want this to be a dynamic learning opportunity for all!

  20. Hi, it seems to connect to the whole issue of motivation for, and fear of, change. This is a useful question to think about, thanks. Chris

  21. That is a hard question to answer directly. But what I do say is that at least half of the couples who contact me for counselling tell me I have been
    recommended to them by couples they know who have already seen me.

  22. I like this answer, and I have not been asked this before… Yet the question can loom between the lines, and now I feel more confident in drawing it forward and making a clear statement. Thank you!

Please Comment ↴