Client-centered Stress First Aid

The same Stress First Aid tools that help with your team and your own wellbeing are helpful when approaching clients as well. Health and wellbeing coach Melyssa Allen, MA, NBC-HWC, DACLM, guides us through the process.

By Melyssa Allen, MA, NBC-HWC, DACLM

If you’ve been tuning into our Stress First Aid series, then you know we have been focusing on how to integrate this framework into the clinic for yourself and the staff. But did you know that this same approach can also be used with your client interactions? This is where “person-centered” Stress First Aid comes in. 

The 7 Cs of Stress First Aid remain the same with these client encounters, but with the addition of some additional elements for each core action: A—Approach, I—Information, D—Direction. 

  • Approach: Demonstrating an approach that conveys respect, care, and compassion 
  • Inform: Getting and giving information in helpful ways 
  • Direct: Directing people in a way that focuses them and reduces distress 

It’s important to keep in mind that when humans are in distress, our “thinking brain” checks out and our “emotional brain” takes over. Applying the Stress First Aid 7 Cs core actions can be helpful in dealing with clients that may be falling in the orange or red stress zones. Knowing when clients may be experiencing a stress injury, such as trauma and/or grief, can be helpful in learning how to effectively provide support. 

Here are some examples of how you can use each of the 7 Cs core actions, while remembering to integrate Approach-Inform-Direct into each action: 


  • Pay attention to client behavior and body language to help you assess their emotional state. Is the client teary-eyed and visibly upset? Are they displaying tension or potential signs of aggression? Make sure to continuously monitor the client and any behavioral or physical changes. 


  • When possible, make the client feel like they are actively engaged in their pet’s treatment; coordinate communication to the client for updates and reassurance, or see if you are able to coordinate time to directly engage with the client. 


  • With client-centered SFA, the “cover” step involves creating a safe and private space for clients to express their emotions without judgment. Allow them to share their concerns, fears, or uncertainties openly. Active listening is vital here: Pay attention to their words and do your best to reflect what emotions they might be experiencing, making them feel heard and understood. 
  • In the case of aggressive clients, which unfortunately many more veterinary teams are experiencing nowadays, “cover” involves keeping yourself and your teams safe from potentially dangerous client situations. Know when you need to call emergency services, but if possible, do your best to de-escalate the client by:  
  • Maintaining a calm demeanor 
  • Actively listening and validating the client’s emotions 
  • Using empathetic language to show you understand how they feel 
  • Being mindful of your own body language and avoiding any positioning that could be perceived as aggressive; maintaining body language that is nonthreatening and approachable 
  • If possible, offering choices to the client to instill a perceived sense of control in the situation 
  • Offering calming techniques if the client seems like they would be receptive to this 


  • Energy tends to be matched, so as much as you can, maintain a calm and composed demeanor, even in challenging situations. Offer words of comfort and encouragement when appropriate, because your calm presence can help clients regain control over their emotions.  
  • As mentioned above, if the client seems receptive, you may consider offering simple relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or taking short breaks, to help clients manage their levels of distress. 


  • Be sure to connect the client with relevant resources or follow-up care instructions. As much as you can, have tangible resources like handouts and pamphlets available to share, because during stressful situations there can be significant impairment with information processing and memory recall.  


  • Check with the client to see if they fully understand their pet’s treatment plan, and clarify any questions or concerns they might have.  
  • If you are able to relate any new information to something the client already understands the client might begin to feel more comfortable and assured with the process. Metaphors and analogies can be helpful here! 


  • When appropriate, praise the client for making the decision to seek treatment and validate their decision making if it supports the pet’s wellbeing.  
  • To give the client more confidence in the veterinary team, assure them that their pet is receiving the best possible care while they are being cared for by your team. Confidence can be contagious and it may help alleviate some of the clients’ anxieties in uncertain situations. 

As veterinary professionals, you have the unique opportunity to not only heal animals but also to be a pillar of support for their human companions during extremely challenging times. By integrating the 7 Cs of Stress First Aid into your client interactions, you can feel empowered to be a source of strength and comfort to your clients. 

We hope this Stress First Aid series has been helpful in providing tangible tips for you to support yourself, your co-workers, and your clients. If you have had success with implementing the Stress First Aid framework in your clinic, we would love to hear from you at! 

Catch up on what we’ve covered so far:    


Cover photo credit: © Gingagi E+ via Getty Images Plus      



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