Serena Simmons Consultant Psychologist

Change. Motivate. Adapt. Improve. Perform

Do you want a coach or do you want a friend?

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A little while ago, I sat down with a new client for what was going to be our first session.

Louise (not her real name), was seemingly a lovely woman who had opted into Coaching sessions with me, which had been provided by her workplace.  Sessions were offered to staff in order to help figure out things like goal setting, work-life balance (what I call Life-Life balance), progression and leadership opportunities, to name a few things.

Some months earlier I had provided a group workshop to a team of people in the company and Louise had been one of the people in the group.  All the people involved were offered, if they so wished to, 4 individual coaching sessions with me on completion of the workshop, should they want to have some psychological coaching input into their work.

So, here we were face to face in a room a couple of weeks later and I asked Louise what she wanted to get from the sessions? She looked at me blankly, so I repeated the question…

‘Louise, what would you like to focus on in our sessions together over the next few weeks?’

Louise frowned and then said, “Ummmm, to be honest, I’m not really sure’.

‘Ok’ I said.  ‘Is there anything that came to mind during the workshop?  Something that you felt you might benefit from looking at with someone else?  An objective view that might be useful in your role perhaps?’

‘Ummmm, not really’ she said.

‘Well, there will be a reason that you said that you wanted to have sessions with me?’

‘Ummmm, not really’

Finally I asked, after a little more probing and a few more questions…

…’well Louise, why exactly did you want to have sessions with me if there’s nothing that you want to look at?’

‘Oh’ she said.  ‘You just seemed really nice and interesting and I wanted to speak with you.  I thought it would be fun.  I thought that, well, I could get to know you a bit better’.

– Getting clear about what you want – 

Though I’ve clearly changed the name here and also made a few slight alterations to this story, it is actually true.

It’s also not the first time that someone has opted to see me for sessions in the same vein.

It usually happens after someone has seen me give a talk, watched one of my videos or I have come into their workplace to deliver some training.  It has resulted in being sat with someone I think is a client, but is actually a person who seemingly desires more of a friendship.  At the very least it is certainly not an ethical client-practitioner relationship.

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

– I see it all around me-

This isn’t new.

It’s something I see all the time. I fact it’s happened to friends and colleagues too, where people have attended their events, networking meetings and training not really because they are all to interested in what they are saying, but more in a desire to get closer to them. Kind of like a pop-star or guru!

Now, I want to be clear here.  It’s great to admire the people that you work with or even wish to work with!

I have been privileged to work with many people I admire.  Over the many years that I have worked with these people, some have turned into genuine friendships.

A good example of this is a fantastic friendship I now have with someone who started off as my Undergraduate Psychology Lecturer while I was at University in New Zealand.  I really admired this lecturer, and what began as standard lecturer-student-relationship, progressed to a peer relationship when I became a postgraduate student and then a lovely friendship. Now some years later I am good friends with him and his family.

Although I certainly admired this persons work prior, this was obviously a natural progression of events and not outside the realms of our given relationship to start with.

Further to this, I also admire and would love to sit down and chew the cud with lots of people that I would say I admire, like the people I  ‘follow’ on Twitter or Facebook, like my favourite authors for instance.  The difference is, that I know and understand my reasons for admiration. More importantly I am also aware of my boundaries…and theirs!

The difficultly occurs when people are unable to see the difference between admiration and therefore wanting to learn from someone or indeed work with them as opposed to just being ‘attracted’ to them as a person and therefore wanting to be near to them in the hope that either some stuff will rub off or you will get to be friends!

– Set your boundaries, and know when to help- 

As a psychologist my boundaries and ethics are clear in this instance.  It would be unethical to befriend my clients so I will stop working with someone if I think this is what they really want or are confused by.

I think it is important as a practitioner to recognise when you have someone come to you for work, and they appear confused by this.

What is it they are really searching for? For example…

Can you help that person see what it is that they really want?

Do they recognise that there is maybe something that they see in you that they want?

Do you portray something that they desire for themselves, like confidence, happiness or contentment.

I did have one client, who after she had said that she came to see me because she ‘liked me’, realised after some discussion that what she really meant was that I seemed confident.  She on the other hand lacked confidence so much, that as someone who seemed to have it, maybe I could help her?

So, it may be appropriate in that first session to go a little deeper and look at a persons reason for ‘liking you’ or ‘wanting to be friends’ with you.

If after discussion it appears that someone really does just want to be friends, I will always refer people on to a colleague or at the very least will refer them to some useful resources like books, blogs and articles (if appropriate to their needs).


We are always going to encounter we admire…how wonderful to find people to look up to or mentor us! But we always have to know the difference and sometimes there is great power in just recognising this.

Til next week!

I’d also love to hear from you about  this topic…

Maybe you are also a Coach or Psychologist and have found yourself in a similar situation.  What did you do? Did you help someone discover something about themselves or did you refer on?

Maybe you are on the other side of the coin…did you admire someone and realised this for yourself.  How did you handle it…what did you learn?

I look forward to reading your comments.


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