Client-Centered Goals and Care in Yoga Therapy

Yoga Therapy is an individualized experience aimed at helping the client feel whole and empowered.  A yoga therapist enjoys positive triumphs and breakthroughs, and also lulls, frustration, and questions.  At times it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Some questions a yoga therapist may have are:

  • What do I do with my client for an hour, and/or for multiple sessions?
  • How can I possibly narrow down all of my recommendations and ideas?
  • What if my idea of what is best for the client differs from what the individual is willing to do and/or where they want to start?

To ease all of these valid questions, the answer all comes back to one thing: the client’s goal.  When we, as the yoga therapist, are questioning our abilities, the client’s commitment, whether or not we will actually be able to help – always pause and bring it back to the client’s goal.  This brings focus, clarity, simplicity, and direction for both you, the yoga therapist and the client.  As a result, you and your client will experience greater satisfaction and growth.

Brief History: Medical Model vs. Client-Centered

It’s important to know where we have been in the past as a society, in order to inform our present and future. Our healing and care providers used to largely operate under a medical model approach. The medical model focused on the provider as solely responsible for doling out ideas and treatment.  This method implied that the individual seeking care had little-to-nothing to contribute. i.e. I am the expert…you are the patient…I will tell you what is best for you… you follow it…I know best. The end. The medical model solely relied on the provider’s knowledge and expertise.

What we know about this “I know better than you” medical model approach, is that it’s largely ineffective long-term, and ultimately disempowering.  If the client does not feel heard, part of the process, and in control of long-term change it is highly unlikely that investment and sustainable change will occur.

Alternatively a client-centered approach, also known as person-centered, honors the individual. The characteristics of a client-centered approach include:

  • Listening, empowering, and ultimately summarizing and reflecting on the client’s wishes/goal
  • Non-directive: allow the client to lead the conversation and gain cues and ideas from his/her goal and summary of the problem
  • Unconditional positive regard : no matter the circumstance; accepting, empathizing, and encouraging the client

Now we know that client-centered practice, care, and teaching is truly the most beneficial delivery.  Not only does it bring the client along and empower them to take control of their own story/journey, but it also invites more confidence for an individual to be able to create and sustain positive change for themselves.  Aka – the ultimate goal!

How do I start with a client-centered approach?

Having an intake session is vital when entering a client/yoga therapist relationship.  This simple practice gives the therapist an opportunity to better know the client’s background, needs, how much time they realistically have to invest each day, and that all-important goal.  

Client-centered yoga therapy

When working with a client, the most important piece is allowing the client to come to his/her own conclusion as to what the goal is. If they do not come to a goal, we can help with brainstorming, journaling exercises, or a conversation.  We can offer suggestions, but they need to fit within the client’s idea of what is manageable and sustainable.

What is your client’s goal?

If we don’t know, how can we possibly proceed?  Developing a goal, no matter how simple, clarifies the entire process for not only the yoga therapist, but also the client.

Simple goals a client may have are:  to reduce pain, to recover from injury, to improve sleep, to reduce stress, to reduce muscle tension, to increase flexibility, to reduce fatigue, to feel more energized, to increase mobility, to feel comfortable attending a group yoga class etc.

The reasons why an individual chooses to enter in a yoga therapy relationship are endless.  The important thing is to know WHY. The goal will inform the process.

If a client has a difficult time deciphering a goal, a yoga therapist can absolutely help!  Typically going through an intake process in and of itself will help at least one simple goal float to the top.

Once the goal is clarified and agreed upon, the process can easily unfold. Focusing on the client’s goal is a client-centered practice. Simple and satisfying.  With the understood goal in mind, the yoga therapist is better equipped to offer a toolbox of practices for the client to try. Those tools should, of course, fit rather easily into the client’s named time-frame of availability.  In return, the client will experience greater satisfaction with the yoga therapist AND the client is more likely to invest their time and attention to their yoga therapy regime.

The more a client is invested, takes the time to practice not only in the presence of the yoga therapist, but also on his/her own, the more likely the client will experience positive change and invest in continuing the process to improved health and wellness.

Ultimately, when one knows where to start, the direction on where to go will become clear.  To begin an effective relationship with a client, start with an intake process and determine the client’s goal for his/herself.  This process is a client-centered approach. Take it slowly from there based on what you know of the client’s schedule, availability, and physical, mental, and emotional needs.  If you, or the client, are ever feeling lost, revisit the goal.

Article contributed by Bryana Cook, an RYT-200, RYT-500 in training, and an 800 hour C-IAYT in training through Inner Peace Yoga Therapy. She is currently an MSW, LGSW, and LICSW in training; a practicing mental health provider in a small rural Minnesota counseling office. Bryana teaches group classes through her nomad business Northern Namaste Yoga and co-leads retreats in beautiful places with her partners in Boreal Bliss Yoga Retreats. She lives in Longville, MN with her husband, where they do their best to live an intentional life of simplicity in nature.