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So, your client flirted with you..

Clients flirting, making romantic advances or grand gestures, asking you out for a "harmless" coffee, trying to get your number, insisting to see you whenever they make an appointment, etc. isn't an unusual instance. We have all been there feeling awkward and clueless.

It was easier for me to reject and turn down such gestures from clients when I worked in a hospital setting because my safety was not in jeopardy. I had students, colleagues, staff and seniors around me all day long to assist me in every time I met with a client. However, when I shifted to telehealth sessions, especially when dealing with sexuality concerns, things changed drastically. The first few times when clients tried to be flirty, I ignored everything they did only continue with my duty towards them and serve with every pure intention I've in my heart.

However, it took me a while to realize that I'm not doing anyone a favor here because:

A. I'm uncomfortable helping them and

B. They aren't here to take my help seriously!

That's when I started taking this flirtatious business and romantic advances seriously and standing up for myself.

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) try to create a safe space where clients can allow themselves to get vulnerable. Reciprocating this with empathy, understanding, smiling and other comforting human emotions to establish a rapport can sometimes backfire when clients perceive this a green flag to make romantic and/or sexual advances. If left unresolved, this WILL directly impact the way you work and provide care to your clients. Trust me, it does.

As a HCPs we have been taught to be there for our clients and advocate for them, but how do we advocate for ourselves in such situations? How do we stand up and draw boundaries in our professional relationships when our dignity is in jeopardy?

It's a skill I'm still learning and wish we were taught this in med school. Nevertheless, I have decided to share what I have learned so far and help each of us be a support system for ourselves.


Taking a professional stance by drawing a boundary is one of the first steps to re-establish the nature of this therapeutic relationship. For example, "I appreciate what interests you may have, but I have to draw the line to take proper professional care of you."

However, you also shouldn’t dismiss any friendly gestures. Keep in mind that not all people who are friendly towards you are flirting with you. If you are unsure about your clients behaviour towards you then make sure to ask and clarify.


My biggest learning from these encounters is to not act sheepish about it.

Acknowledging that their advances make you feel uncomfortable is an action in itself to shut the behaviour. Inform them the consequences of continuing this behaviour (for example: you will handover their care to other professional or report to the management) and immediately move the conversation into something clinical to set a more serious tone.

Although it’s easier to ignore flirtatious gestures, not doing anything to address them only encourages the person to go on.


Make sure that you aren’t alone when you are assessing the client henceforth. Ask a relative or one of your co-workers to accompany you during the assessment or any procedure. It’s best that you ask someone to be in the room as the patient to ensure their comfort and your safety. Leave the door slightly open if you can when conducting a physical session. If you are in a telehealth setting, you can request any of your colleagues to supervise the session.


If you don’t find a joke funny or if you find them say anything offensive, don’t laugh. If the client starts sharing personal stories irrelevant to the point you are discussing in a session, change the topic or steer it back to a subject that’s work-related.

Another good way to tame their flirty side is to use humor to your advantage. Be witty and lightly point out how they are flirting with you and how you find it unattractive. When you reject their advances subtly, they are likely to receive the message and avoid repeating this behaviour.


Client matters, but so do you. I learned this the hard way and made it all about my incompetence to treat my clients. Well, this is not true. Referring a client to another professional doesn't mean you cannot handle them, rather reflects on how well you can handle and manage a therapeutic relationship with grace and professionalism.

Make a referral to another professional if you find this situation makes you feel anxious, uncomfortable or causes a conflict of interest or impacts your mental health. There is no reason to put your and your clients health at jeopardy here.

Rejection doesn't come easy to us when we are in the position of providing care, but we owe it to ourselves as helpers to help ourselves too.


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