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Are you a Hairdresser and Unofficial Therapist? Discover How to Tackle Clients’ Personal Problems

by laurahusband / last updated October 26, 2021

hairdresser therapist personal problems

Are you both a hairdresser and an unofficial therapist when you’re behind the chair by sharing their personal problems with you? Louise Wood is the managing director of LWPR and a trained counsellor. As part of HJ’s Breast Cancer Awareness Week., sponsored by ghd, we brought back our conversation with her where she shares her expert advice on what to say and how to help when clients and team members share their most personal problems with you.

A lot happens in the lives of your clients between salon visits. Successes and failures, laughter and sadness, hope and despair, triumphs and disappointments. A really big theme in therapy, and in general for 2020 is one of loss and this is a vast area. The personal problems that will be coming into the salon will range from losses relating to the loss of a loved one right through to employment, seeing overseas family, missing funerals of loved ones, even a long-planned holiday through to the loss of self-esteem; peace of mind and confidence.

The hairdresser has historically been part of that ‘confessional booth’ and acts as a therapist in a place where clients see someone, they are familiar with who isn’t within their family or friendship group. This gives them the freedom to talk things over. Of course, it’s a real sign of strength in your relationship that clients want to come and share. It’s a privilege to hear these things but sometimes we can feel out of our depth as to what on earth to say in response and a concern that you may not have the right words for your clients who are dealing with extremely difficult personal problems.

 As a hairdresser and unofficial therapist your clients are sharing their personal problems because they want to talk and be listened to

Dos

  • Be a good listener
  • Make eye contact
  • Beware of your reactions to what is being said and don’t project your feelings, fears or shock onto your client.
  • Say you understand how hard that is for them
  • If appropriate, offer how well it sounds like they are coping under the circumstances
  • Thank them for sharing it with you
  • Let them know you will be thinking of them
  • Make a note somewhere confidentially to jog your memory about this significant issue relating to this client so you remember the name and issue involved if they raise it again
  • Have some tissues handy

 As a hairdresser and unofficial therapist you don’t need the answers to your client’s personal problems

 Most people who are sharing their personal problems aren’t looking for you to give them suggestions, they are looking to be listened to, accepted and maybe encouraged.

Don’ts

  • Don’t jump to the rescue – mostly people telling you something just want to hear themselves speaking their difficulties out and being heard so don’t offer advice as everyone has their own way of dealing with their grief.
  • Don’t fall into ‘me too’ and ‘that happened to me’ this isn’t helpful and can leave people feeling hijacked or that their loss has been minimised.
  • Don’t offer that it will be better soon or try to help them have another feeling – the one they have is the one you need to accept.
  • Don’t feel you need to raise the issue again at the next appointment. Your client might be in a different place and it is their story for them to mention or not.

Don’t underestimate the power of listening to your clients’ personal problems. For your clients talking it out can be one of the most helpful and healing things to do.

Here are some suggestions for how to answer some of your clients’ personal problems:

What to say if a loved one has just died or is dying…

The most important thing is to try to stand in your client’s shoes and ‘get’ where they are coming from. If someone is telling you of significant and current loss, they are in grief and whilst you can’t actually do anything to take that away, remember that this grief is actually doing its work of eventually healing pain. We all feel we ‘should’ say something wise and helpful at times like this. This is where I would draw upon what I know of that person, so I might say, ‘I am so, so sorry to hear this and if I can offer something from what I know of you, and from what you have told me about your relationship in the past, you loved your mum so well and you have been such a caring daughter/son, and I hope that will give you some comfort in time but I can see how hard it is for you now”. You could also ask an open question such as: “I am genuinely so sorry for your loss, what can I do for you today that will help in any way?”.

This shows you care and you will do what you can for them. It brings the conversation back to the moment in time, and the service you are giving. Whilst your client might go on to talk more about their loss or they might not, what matters is that you take their lead on this conversation and leave it with them to change the subject.

Challenges for you as a hairdresser and unofficial therapist: It is really hard to see someone in pain and not give them a whole heap of advice. Remember they aren’t asking you to ‘fix’ them, they are telling you of a sadness that is significant and painful for them. Listen to what they say; show you have heard them; recognise how hard it is and tell them that you’re glad they have shared it with you and that you will be thinking of them.

Resources to share with clients’ who are dealing with bereavement:  

  • Local bereavement groups
  • Counselling services
  • Note: these need to be offered just saying we don’t have personal experience of them, but they might be a place to start.
  • David Kessler’s Understanding Grief card deck are excellent resources – available on Amazon or www.pesipublishing.com.

Other tough situations to navigate:

What to say if someone is going through a messy divorce or break-up…

There is a balance between listening and wanting to hear where your clients are at, and getting drawn into a hugely deep issue. What I would try to do here is show your care, sorrow and concern and acknowledge this sounds devastating for them and so hard. But whatever you do, don’t even remotely get drawn into ‘bashing the ex’ or reminding them how many times they have complained about them and have been so unhappy in the past or offering a view on whether they will or won’t be better off. That is dangerous water and probably very sacred ground for the client. I would be gently curious and ask them who else they are talking to about it. If they have girl or boy friends, they can keep on talking to about it. You could also introduce the importance of having little things to look forward to each day or week to try to help get them through this.

The importance of the consultation for clients going through a break-up:

There is likely to be a whole mixture of emotions for clients who are experiencing relationship break-ups. This will almost always be linked to the clients wanting to re-gain something of another identity to boost confidence, self-esteem or tap into a different part of their identity (perhaps one that got lost along the way).

There will be some practical questions you can ask during the consultation such as:

  • How do you want your hair to make you feel?
  • Is this a good time to think about some little changes in your hair style?
  • I am so sorry you are having such a hard time. I really feel for you and wish I could do more. What can we do hair-wise that will give you a bit of a boost –have you had any thoughts?

As with any other area of loss or pain, it’s vital that as the listener you really ‘get it’ and that you can genuinely show and tell the client you understand what a hard thing this is.

It is important to acknowledge what is going on in their life but to bring it back to the now and the part you can play during your client’s appointment.

What to say if someone tells you they are feeling really down and anxious…

This is a tough one because something that may calm, give perspective or help one person may be so different to what will help another. It’s worth remembering that every human being at some level has anxiety. It’s a survival instinct but it can also be a really unhelpful chatterbox in our heads throwing out all sorts of catastrophic scenarios. A therapist would be going into the emotion and exploring when, where and by whom anxiety is triggered, when someone feels better or worse and would move more into the feeling. I would veer away from this in-salon and instead recognise how rough this is for them.

What to say during the appointment to someone dealing with anxiety:

  • What things do you do to make yourself feel better?
  • How does it feel coming here to the hairdressers?
  • Given how you are feeling it is really good to see you here and I am so glad you are here with me today.
  • If it is of any use to you at all, I find doing something I really have to concentrate on helps me to calm down’
  • If it helps, I sometimes do some quick breathing exercises counting to 10 as I breathe in and 10 as I breathe out and that slows things down and helps soothe me and then I can think more clearly.”

There are lots of things that can help with anxiety, but the list will be unique to each person, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Walking
  • Talking
  • Painting
  • Making something with our hands and being creative.

You could share the small personal things that perhaps make you feel better when you are anxious and shar those with your client but recognise that works for you might not work for your client. If you offer anything always be aware that this might not be a fit for them.

Fear is something we try to avoid, deny or escape from, but it is true to say that fear has a way of arriving uninvited into all of our lives and eventually it will subside and return.

Resources to share with clients’ who are dealing with feelings of anxiety:  

There will be many personal problems that your clients may bring to you as their hairdresser and unofficial therapist, but remember if you do the following your clients will extremely grateful:

  • Slow down
  • Listen to them
  • Show how much you care about what they are saying
  • Show that you are grateful to be someone they have told
  • Share something positive with them about how much you have loved seeing them

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is brought to you by ghd. Connect with ghd on social media – Facebook @ghdprofessional & Instagram @ghdhairpro and YouTube @ghd.

Click here to read the Official Schedule for HJ’s Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

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