How to protect yourself from the emotional impact of working with clients

By Andrea Dorata on October 30th, 2023

Whether you’re a hairdresser, beauty therapist or any other sort of therapist in contact with the general public, it’s inevitable that you’ll come into contact on a regular basis with people who are going through tough emotions. From illness to divorce and a host of other things, you’ll hear it all. Often, it’s in the safe one to one space of your chair that they let their guard down and confide in you.

How does this impact your own mental health?

A study conducted by L’Oreal Professionnel Paris revealed that mental health is the number one challenge*** for hairdressers across six countries, and that 65%**** of hairstylists have experienced anxiety, burnout or depression during their professional career. Hair professionals spend on average 2,000 hours* per year listening to their clients and offer a service that goes beyond the physical transformation of a haircut or colour. We chatted to award winning salon owner of Dorata Salon and L’Oreal Professionnel Artist Andrea Dorata about how to protect yourself from the emotional impact of being client facing.

There might be many reasons why a client chooses to confide in us, it feels like a sort of invisible bubble forms around ourselves and the client in the chair, and we are also very much in each others’ personal space.

This is probably one of the most important aspects of our job in the salon and one I love and take very seriously.

In our salons for years we have included some body language and communication skills in our training, teaching our team the importance of this, and the benefit of working within a team is that we can also coach each other and learn from our own experiences, as a salon owner I make sure I have a good relationship with my team, I talk to them everyday, mostly professionally but I make sure they know I am also there for them personally should they need me.

We organise meditation sessions with experts for our team, as well as pilates – traditionally wellbeing skills have not been taught as part of our jobs but we are setting out to change that, we feel that educating our teams in subjects like menopause & domestic abuse is very important for both themselves and for their clients, so we are in the process of bringing more speakers in across women’s health and bereavement among others.

Personally I take it as a real privilege when a client shares their traumas with me, over the years I’ve learned how to protect myself but I am a sensitive person and from time to time it does still affect me too. If I can give someone a moment of relief as well as a great haircut I know I have a had a great day.

I remember the first time one of my clients told me she had cancer, I must have been 21. I did the consultation, got her shampooed, rushed to the staff room and burst out crying. She was 33 with two kids and was pregnant.

My brother owned the salon and we had a cuddle and cried together while she was being shampooed, then took a deep breath, and gave her the best haircut, then when she left I went back to the staff room and had another cry.

My brother told me it was OK to feel like that, and that we are good at this job because we love people, he told me it will happen again, and it’s ok to feel sad, but he also told me that it was a privilege to help people however little we can.

So I learned to cope, but I don’t think you can be truly sympathetic and emotionally distant at the same time. I feel the pain, but I‘ve learned that all I can do is listen, or make them smile, and the doctors will do the rest.

I think what shapes us all and our ability to manage is our personal life experiences, ambitions and teachings, so it is important to prepare young stylists for what they’ll hear, although most people who join the industry are brilliant with people. We’ve had team members do the Trevor Sorbie My New Hair course which teaches wig cutting but also includes time with McMillan nurses who advise on how to speak to and support clients with cancer. We also support our team with L’Oreal Professionnel’s Head Up program which was launched to support hairdressers’ mental health after finding that on average, hairstylists spend 2,000 hours per year listening to their clients.

All Salon Gold policies for salons include FREE access to a counselling helpline. Qualified counsellors are on hand whenever you need them to provide free confidential support and advice by phone to all policyholders, their employees and their families. Counselling is offered for those suffering from emotional upset or feeling worried and anxious about a personal or work-related problem.

* From Samaritans (2017) ‘Crop, look and listen: hairdressers help Samaritans highlight the life-saving power of listening’.
** From a study conducted by L’Oréal Professionnel Paris through the brand’s official Instagram account (March 2023) reaching up to 1.8M hair lovers.
*** From L’Oréal Professionnel research.
**** From a study conducted by L’Oréal Professionnel Paris through the brand’s official Instagram account (March 2023) reaching up to 1.8M hair lovers.

Andrea Dorata

Andrea Dorata has worked in the hairdressing industry for over 20 years. He is a L’Oreal guest artist, artistic director of Dorata hairdressing and owner of Dorata Marlow.

All articles by Andrea Dorata

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