In Consultation

In Consultation

Doorknob Moments

By Daniela Gitlin

September/October 2018

Q: When clients drop “bombshells” in the last few minutes of a session, I always experience it as an ambush. I know I’m still supposed to end the session on time, but I always find it hard. How can I better handle these unexpected moments?

A: This common therapeutic phenomenon is also known as a “doorknob moment.” In other words, the client drops the bomb on his way out, with his hand on the doorknob. In my own practice, I’ve learned that, rather than thinking of this as an ambush, it’s helpful not only to accept it as inevitable, but to welcome it.

Most of us were taught that ending a session on time is therapeutic for clients. But like you, I found this difficult to do when clients became distraught following a last-minute disclosure. It felt unkind at least and harmful at worst to say, “Sorry, too bad you’re bleeding; we don’t have time to pack that wound.” At the same time, I recognized that running over time sets a bad precedent and sends the day’s schedule off the rails, stressing not just me but clients who are kept waiting.

After 25 years of practice, I’ve developed a helpful framework to manage these moments that eliminates the judgment call about whether to run over, confirms it is therapeutic to end on time, and decreases stress all around. How did I arrive here? When I first started thinking about bombshell endings, I turned to the literature to help me better understand them, and found it only explored…

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1 Comment

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 2:04:42 PM | posted by Debbie Ann Chambers
This is a very helpful article. I'll add that another layer of complexity comes for those of us who work in clinics (public health, college counselling etc.) and see our clients once every three weeks to once every month. Do you think that this adds any extra pressure on clinicians to process doorknob statements and go over time? Would you add any other considerations for those contexts? Thanks!