Client versus consumer: what one friend found

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Consumer vs Client

The discussion in our Saturday meeting became heated at times and made it difficult for cooler heads to prevail. In my previous post I said that the problem came down to who is a consumer and who is a client. So, let’s look at the definitions of consumer and client.

What does consumer mean?

In the dictionary, a consumer is defined as  a person or thing that consumes. In economics, a consumer is a person or organization that uses a commodity or service. In ecology, a consumer is an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on plants or other animals.

In human terms, a consumer is a person who acquires goods and services for his or her own personal needs. Consumers are the opposite of producers who create things for the society. The distinction between consumers and producers is often part of political discourse, as wealthy people are often called producers.

Given this definition, it is easy to understand why being a consumer may not be considered positive.

Let’s contrast this with the term client. Who are these people?

The dictionary gives several definitions for clients
1. a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc. 2. a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc. 3. a customer. 4. anyone under the patronage of another; a dependent. 5. Computers. a workstation on a network that gains access to central data files, programs, and peripheral devices through a server.

In addition there is an important quote that sheds light on the use of this term. “Within Western medicine, physically ill people approach medical helpers in a manner much different from the psychologically ill. Physically ill people bring sick bodies to physicians; emotionally ill people bring sick souls to psychotherapists. Differences in these two forms of helping are visible even in the language; the person in need of medical help is always a “patient,” while the person in need of psychotherapy is often a “client.” Each form of helping has a particular way of approaching the person needing help. Medical patients are treated, taken care of, and made better by the doctor. Psychotherapy clients must be actively engaged in their healing.” Carol S. Becker.

From this we can see that the term client is often associated with professional settings. It is used in business. And there is this interesting distinction when we look at medicine where we see persons who need physical help are often referred to as patients but in mental health, the same person becomes a client.

However the most important part of this discourse is that consumer versus client is a matter of personal preference. It is easy to see why a person who comes from a professional background would refer to the people she assists as clients. In the end, they are all people who need our attention and care. Let us agree on that part.


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