What do I do about an elder client that is seeking my friendship when I would prefer to stay at a professional level?
I have an elder female client that doesn't always understand what is appropriate. She often interrupts class to try to discuss her personal issues. I have always managed to handle this situation when it happens. The problem now is that she is on a leave of absence and sends messages to the facility asking me to call her so that she can update me. I want to continue to have a professional relationship without giving her the wrong impression but I also want to stay compassionate. Where is the line and how do I make it clear to someone that doesn't always understand?
You have a really tricky situation.
Here is what I do. I always take that opportunity to offer a wellness coaching package so that clients like this appreciate that as much as I like them, this is my profession and it is a paid profession.
Another idea, is to take the SilverSneakers course and hope she has Medicare. It is important to remember that many of the elderly have lost many of their friends and relatives in death and miss companionship. The SilverSneakers program provides a means for them to engage in physical activity and interact with their peers. Perhaps you might suggest that to your gym.
Perhaps there are activities at your gym that you initiate so that the older adult population have an outlet other than your classes to socialize in/at. Is this a suggestion you can make to your GM? It might prove to be a revenue source.
I wish you the best with this.
I assume that you interacted with her as a group fitness instructor. Particularly with older adults, we may be the only people they talk to in the course of the day. Did you observe her interacting with any of the other participants? Her comments may have fallen on deaf ears there, and she addressed them to you knowing that you were bound to respond in a professional and courteous way.
You indicate that her calls are making you uncomfortable because you would prefer not to interact with her at that level. I would discuss this with my supervisor. Maybe they can call her back telling her that they would let you know.
This may not easily fix the problem, though, if she is determined that you are the one who needs/wants to know. We often are very casual in our remarks to get somebody off our backs. I will make a comment like "Oh, yes, please let me know how it (whatever that is) went", when I really have no interest in the matter. You mention in your question that "she does not always understand", and you may need to brace yourself for the eventuality that, no matter what you do or fail to do, if she does not want to 'get a hint'. In the worst case scenario, she may even be angry with you. This is why I would find it important that you involve your supervisors and appraise them of the situation.
I wish you good luck with that. I also liked Joanne's suggestions. those are very good options.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Then, take a look at yourself. What can you change in order to not attract this type of behavior next time?
It has happen to many of us in the people business. Myself I have very strong boundaries and then boundaries external to the close ones. Like a castle with a wall, a moat and a draw bridge.
A great country will be judged on how it cares for the weakest members of its society.