Saying Thank You – When professionals get it right

I had an amazing experience recently. In a lot of ways it wasn’t particularly extraordinary, but it was special in its own way. I’m discharging my first client. We’ve come to the end of therapy and it’s time for them to leave the service and move on. The timing felt right, we’d focused on a particular problem, and now he felt that it was much better. We’d got on well and at the last session I did feel a bit sad to see him go. As he left he quickly gave me a bag, saying ‘this is for you’, and then slipped off. I was completely stunned, I felt a bit like I might cry! I’ve never had a thank-you gift from a client, and it felt really moving, it left me on a high that lasted for days.

Now I’ve checked my trust’s policy, and given that there’s no sign that the gift was meant as a bribe or some kind of inappropriate intent, and it’s of low value, I can keep it. It really took me by surprise. In the kind of work we do, you get quite used to not really expecting a thank-you from the people you see. But sometimes that can mean it’s hard to really know if you’re doing a good job and meeting people’s needs. In my last job I work in a dementia assessment service. People don’t really thank you for giving them a diagnosis, regardless of how sensitively and efficiently you’ve done it! I remember one day a client telling me that he’d found the service really helpful and he’d like to comment on it formally. I was completely flumoxed! We weren’t used to receiving positive feedback and there wasn’t really a system in place to receive it. In the end I gave him the complaints line, I figured they’d know what to do with it! But his comments really touched me.

It got me thinking. I’ve seen countless health professionals throughout my life, doctors, nurses, therapists and others, but it’s never occurred to me to even send a card to give some thanks. Why not? We tip when we get good service in a restaurant, what about healthcare professionals? Admittedly not all my experiences have been 100% positive, but I have met some clinicians who were very considerate and helpful and it felt like they put a bit more into supporting me. Maybe I feel like ‘doing it well’ is just their job, it’s what they get paid for and I needn’t thank them for it. But my recent experiences have really made me think about what it means to get a thank-you, even just verbally, to the individual. We can all suffer from a kind of professional-neurosis, are we actually any good at our jobs, are we just frauds, pretending we know what we’re doing? And there is a difference between fulfilling your job-description, working in a way that your service considers acceptable, and really making a difference to an individual, the client who actually has to sit in the room with you and have your ‘treatment’. Sometimes it can feel a bit removed, am I really helping them at all? And it may seem a bit cheesy, but receiving some positive feedback really does make it all feel worthwhile. The job can be a hard slog, the money isn’t always great, but knowing you’ve really helped someone, that’s an incredible feeling. It pushes me to be better, to become more, to really push to give a strong, person-centred focus, and to not loose track of that important person in the chair, the reason I’m here.

With this in mind, I am sending a card to my old psychologist. I completed a course of therapy with her 3-4 years ago. The therapy was a challenge and I wasn’t happy with the time-limited nature of it (NHS restrictions) and was very upset when it ended, feeling I needed more time. I was probably quite resentful in our last sessions. But I often think of her and the work we did, and I maybe didn’t see it immediately at the time, but it has done me a lot of good. I am using what she helped me to work out every day. I also learnt a lot from her and it has shaped how I think of the professional I want to become. I want to just send her a card and let her know that I am ok and I really appreciated the work she did with me. I know it’s her job to do therapy and she’s good at it, but I felt like she really took the time to get to know me and take my needs and point of view into account. I’d like to let her know that she did a good job, and to keep up the good work, because it means a lot to people like me. Have you ever given a thank-you card or gift to a professional? Would you?

6 thoughts on “Saying Thank You – When professionals get it right

  1. Love love love this post!! I can very much identify with it. I have gotten a few small cards and gifts from clients from time to time, and it really does WONDERS to reinforce the relationship and the job that I am doing. Those cards and notes lift me up so much that I carry them around with me in my work bag, and when I have a horrible day or a horrible session, I get those cards out and go through them to remind myself that I won’t be able to help everyone, but I do actually, really end up helping most people I see. I’ve even kept a view voicemails from clients at work that make me smile. I really pay conscious attention to when things are going great to remind me why I do this work, why I choose this work, day in and day out.

    Also, planned terminations are very few and far between in the population with which I work. Most of the time, clients are going through a million things at once, constantly in crisis, not sure if they’re ready for therapy, etc., and I often never know if this is the last time I’ll ever see them. So when planned terminations do actually happen, they are a cause for celebration! I think gifts and thank yous mean all that much more (to both me and my clients) given those circumstance.

    For these reasons (knowing just how good it feels to get positive feedback) I have given small gifts and thank yous to the counselors I’ve had. And, as a client, I can understand what it means to be able to thank the person who has helped you so much in this very one-sided professional relationship.

    Thanks again for the post, and congrats to you and your client on your successful hard work together.

  2. I’m sorry I didn’t write proper thank you cards to the mh advisor and therapists that I saw when at univestiy. I did though them thank you emailsl which I hope showed at least half my appreciation, a couple of months ago, about 6 months after graduating uni (thanks in no small part to them) and moving away from uni town.

    At first I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was. I didn’t know if it would be ok to thank them beyond returning the patient surveys. I didn’t know if they would remember who I was. I wondered if we were all part of a sausage factory, made to feel individual, or if I really was.

    In the end I decided to thank them because even if they didn’t remember me, it would be nice for them to know I did remember them, and often have memories of what they said echoing in my head.

    Aside from wanting to thank them, to be honest, writing the notes also helped me kind of put a finish to that bit of my life too.

    As it was, I had nice little emails back from them. It seems they did remember me, and one of them even said that opening my email had made her day! Hearing that equally made my day too! I’m pleased I thanked them, and reading your blog post reassures me it would have been appreciated by them too. Thank you.

    • I bet the email really meant a lot! It’s tough on both sides, you develop this relationship with someone, find out so much about them and watch them grow, and then they go off into the world and you don’t get to see them again or know how they’re doing, but obviously we can’t go and get in touch!

      Perhaps people I only met once or twice have slipped a bit from my memory, but on the whole I do remember all the people I’ve worked with, though some names escape me. It’s never a sausage factory! (though that did make me giggle a bit). I think you’re right, writing a note or similar can be a good way of processing things and working through the transition yourself.

  3. A good call to action.
    It takes so little to say thanks, but all to often we either don’t say it enough, or don’t say it as if we really mean it. And as you point out, people are so grateful when you do give thanks!

    So I will try to remember to be more grateful, especially with medical professionals.

  4. This is a lovely post 🙂
    I think clients also need to know that we do care about them after therapy has finished, and that we feel genuinely touched by the little gifts and cards that they send. I have one letter from a client in my first year of teaching, that I sometimes read when I’m feeling down and that reminds me that, no matter how difficult it is sometimes, the job really is worthwhile.
    And I will be thanking my GP the next time I need to see them 🙂

  5. Pingback: This Week in Mentalists – The Where Did Everybody Go? Edition « This Week in Mentalists

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