How to Not Personalize a Client’s Relapse?

By Kristie Overstreet on September 23, 2019

The field of addiction counseling is a tough one at times. Helping a client along their journey from their life being out of control to recovery can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a therapist.

However, just as exhilarating as it is to see a client succeed, it can be daunting when they don’t. There is no such thing as a perfect client or therapist. Here is what you need to know, so you don’t personalize a client’s relapse.

What is a relapse?

Relapse is the return of an illness after a period of improvement. The time frame of improvement differs from person to person. There is a difference in how society views medial and mental health relapse. People are more understanding and empathetic when there is a medial versus mental health relapse. One of the most common illnesses that are impacted by relapse is addiction.

To define relapse, it’s essential to understand that for some, the definition of relapse is subjective. There are many types of relapses from addictions, eating disorders, behavioral, and various mental health issues. Here are a few examples of relapse.

  • Drug relapse
  • Alcohol relapse
  • Addiction relapse
  • Bulimia relapse
  • Schizophrenia relapse
  • Anxiety relapse
  • Depression relapse
  • Cutting relapse
  • Manic relapse
  • PTSD relapse
  • Smoking relapse
  • Bipolar relapse
  • Mental relapse

Why it’s easy to personalize a relapse?

As a clinician, you have spent time with your client providing therapy and support. Your client is doing well and following all of your treatment recommendations. You feel good about their progress and proud that they are working toward their goals.

Then you get the call, email, or during the session, your client tells you that they have relapsed. It’s common to feel an array of emotions from disbelief, sadness, frustration, and even disappointment in self. Your client worked with you to get better and to obtain the tools for recovery. Here are a few questions you may ask yourself when you find out your client relapses.

  • “Did I do something wrong?”
  • “Did I do enough for my client?”
  • “Am I a good therapist if my client relapsed?”

Relapse is a part of recovery

Whether it’s a medical or mental health illness, relapse is a part of recovery for individuals. The frequency and duration of relapse differ from person to person, which makes personalizing it counterproductive.

A part of relapse prevention therapy is to create a relapse prevention plan. These plans help your client identify triggers, behaviors, and coping skills to utilize to prevent relapse. As a clinician, you can only do so much to help your client. What they decide to do outside of their work with you it’s up to them.

It’s not about you

Finding out that your client has relapsed can be disheartening. As a caring professional, it’s easy to question your value and worth, because your job is to help your client. However, you aren’t responsible for your client’s actions. Your client is an individual who makes decisions that affect their lives.

Your client’s relapse isn’t about you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t take a look at your interaction, skills, and approach with the client. You can only do so much, and it’s your responsibility to provide ethical care within your scope of practice.

Relapse is a part of recovery, so review your clinical work with your client and identify any areas you can improve. If you personalize your client’s relapse, then you can quickly become fixated and not be able to serve your other clients. Remember to continue to keep learning and moving forward as a clinician.


Dr. Kristie Overstreet is a clinical sexologist, certified sex therapist, licensed professional clinical counselor, author, speaker, and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology, Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Addiction Professional. She has over 12 years of clinical experience specializing in sex therapy, transgender healthcare, relationships, and helping counselors build their private practice. She is president of Therapy Department, a private practice that provides counseling, training, speaking, and consulting services across the United States.  For more information about Dr. Kristie's work visit


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