Patient or Client?

It’s something that I’ve been curious about for some time – what mental
health professionals (an inaccurate classification – we deal largely with emotional health) choose to call the people with whom they work.

Some will say that client is too impersonal, more appropriate to a services- rendered arrangement such as between an architect or a lawyer.

Others will counter that calling people patients implies that they are sick, when for the most part they are simply wrestling with inadequate coping methods, a common human dilemma.

Perhaps the strongest argument against “patient” is that it subscribes to the medical model that implies any given disorder is treated the same way for any individual.

Some find “patient” condescending. I once had someone decline psychotherapy on the basis of my using the word. Others assert that the word is more representative of the intimate relationship that is involved, especially the revealing of sensitive and private information. Certainly there is an undeniable healing that can occur in effective psychotherapy.

Which word does your psychotherapist use? What do you think?


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

3 thoughts on “Patient or Client?”

  1. I’m not even sure which term my therapist uses. I think his office probably uses the word “patient” because it is part of a large hospital and clinic system. I’ll have to pay attention to this.


  2. I call the people who come here for CBT patients, because they are mostly referred by doctors for conditions that are also treatable by drugs (though not treatable as successfully, in most cases). I don’t think the “medical model” is particularly useful, but that’s the system.

    I don’t object to the term “client” because years ago when I was a counsellor I used that term. My clients then did not have such serious problems that they were ill, and they mostly had not been referred by doctors.

    CBT is definitely for mental health, because it deals with the mental (cognitive and behavioural) causes of patients’ troubles. The symptoms are emotional, and those kinds of troubles were historically known as emotional disorders, but the treatment is mental.


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