Losing Focus as a Therapist

Mary Jo Barrett on Being Better Attuned to Clients

When in a session, we know that our primary initial responsibility as a therapist is to listen intently to what clients say, giving them our undivided attention. But being only human, there are times when we get distracted and are no longer focused on what they’re telling us.

Maybe their issue triggers a memory of something in our own life, or maybe we feel uncomfortable or unsafe with what a client is confessing. Whatever the reason for our distraction, clients can tell when our thoughts are elsewhere, and their reactions are often to assume that we’re having negative thoughts about them.

In this clip Mary Jo Barrett, founder and director of the Center for Contextual Change, talks about a time in her clinical work when she lost focus on what a client was telling her and the process she puts herself through to become more attuned to her clients.


Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.

Mary Jo Barrett

Mary Jo Barrett, MSW, is the founder and director of Contextual Change and coauthor of Treating Complex Trauma: A Relational Blueprint for Collaboration and Change and The Systemic Treatment of Incest.