When training courses in the workplace touch on self reflection, there is always the chance that at least one person in the room will use it as a forum for their very own therapy. Especially if the trainer is a psychologist or any kind of therapist.

It is their time to shine and tell everyone on the course how awful their life and their workplace is. Or go into far too much unnecessary detail around their personal circumstances. This particular person will be much less likely to be interested in anyone else’s experiences, and will generally try to hog the airspace. Their lack of empathy will begin to affect the training.

If the trainer is not mindful, the training will descend into therapy, rather than training. And there lies the problem. The mood in the room will change, and the training points will be lost. If this continues, the training ends up a disaster and a waste of everyone’s time and money, apart from the person who used the training as therapy.

The uncomfortable question is this. Who is at fault for the training descending into therapy and not training, is it the trainer or the delegate?

Always the trainer. Is this harsh? Absolutely not.

It can be really difficult to be assertive with someone when they are pouring their hearts out on a training course, because it may be perceived as having a lack of empathy. As a trainer, empathy is a fantastic characteristic, but without boundaries it can lead to training turning into therapy.

Let’s see some of the ways a trainer can stop the training turning into a private therapy session.

Set appropriate empathy boundaries. Right at the beginning of the course when setting out “ground rules”, or boundaries as I like to call them, make it explicitly clear that the day is training and not therapy. Say it exactly as it is. This sets what I call “empathy boundaries.”

Turn a moan or groan into a question. The first time a delegate attempts to use the session as therapy, let them finish, then ask this question “What was the question?” this forces the delegate to think about a question, rather than go into a ramble. And, if it happens again, stop them very nicely, mid sentence, and ask again “What was the question?” This helps the delegate to think first and speak later.

Put the thought on hold. Stop the delegate nicely, mid sentence, and ask to put their thought on hold, and, let them know if you have time, you will cover it at the end of the training. Then pop their thought onto a flip chart. Keep doing this as a last resort. Then apologise that you were not able to come back to their thoughts because of time constraints.

There can be many reasons for this type of behaviour, and as a trainer it is not your role to find out why, it is your role to keep the training from turning into therapy. In a nutshell, it is a matter of boundaries. This person will lack boundaries and may find it difficult respecting or being aware of other people’s boundaries. The key to managing this type of behaviour is through consistent boundaries. Placing boundaries at the beginning of the training and maintaining those boundaries are key.

I would love to hear your experiences of how you managed to stop one of your training sessions from turning into a therapy session.