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What I need you to know about therapy

21 Jan

What do therapists know that clients don’t? What do therapists want clients to know? What do therapists not tell clients? The answers could fill years of blogging even from one therapist, and fill many more posts if every therapist, counselor, pastor, life coach, and psychologist were asked! Right now I’m narrowing it down to one answer that I want you to know; from my dual viewpoint as a therapist and as a client.
Many therapists are also in therapy, and in my experience this is a very good thing. It helps me stay balanced, to know where my own worries and stresses are and to deal with them so they don’t come up in your session. It also means that I can sympathize with your point of view as a client.
As both a counselor and a client, my answer to ‘what do I want you to know?’ is ‘You won’t always feel as connected in some sessions as you do in others. Your therapist won’t always feel as connected, either. And therapy is still happening.’ If you have a good connection to your therapist, therapy is still happening even if you don’t feel as connected, even if you feel like you didn’t say much, even if.
I did put in the caveat ‘if you have a good connection to your therapist’. Therapy is a relationship. It’s a very specific relationship. This is why therapists can’t do therapy with their family or close friends. It’s why therapists are forbidden from having sexual activity with clients, and from doing therapy with anyone they ever had a sexual or romantic relationship with. The therapeutic relationship has to be itself, not a part of another relationship. It’s okay if you see your therapist in the grocery store. It’s often okay if you go to the same church or belong to the same organization. In fact, many people want a therapist who has the same beliefs, or who has gone through the same things. In my practice, my business cards read ‘Flying Free Healing Arts – Alikina (Allie) Iubhar – Therapy with someone who’s been there’. Because I am a survivor of abuse, and many survivors want to know that their therapist really ‘gets it’.
Even so, therapy is a specific relationship. And like any relationship, it needs to be healthy. When you feel a sense of connection, feel like your therapist cares, that you matter, that’s the start of a good therapeutic relationship. When you can say whatever you need to, when you therapist isn’t upset or confused, but understands most of what you’re saying and listens when you explain the rest, that’s the next part. When you can feel all your emotions (yep – even anger & fear & grief) with your therapist and know you’re understood, and that you and your emotions are okay with your therapist, you and you therapist have built the foundation that therapy comes from.
Even when your therapist understands, and when you can talk about whatever you need to, and when your therapist will ask insightful questions and explain things and suggest directions for you to consider, even when you have a very good therapeutic relationship; yes, you can have a day where you just don’t feel as connected. If you have a lot of those days, it might mean that you’re having some problems with your therapist. It for sure means you need to talk to them, and to say what you’re feeling, and what you need. But now and again, if you don’t feel like your therapist is as close today, or that they don’t seem to understand… that’s okay.
Therapists, counselors, when you feel like you aren’t as in tune with your client that one time… that’s okay. Again, if it’s happening a lot you need to address it. First, that’s why you have your own therapist. You can and should talk to your therapist about it. A lot of us have ‘supervision’, where we talk to someone with more experience, or we get together with a few colleagues, and we talk about things that concern us. And if it’s happening a lot with one specific client, a therapist should address it with that client. But every now and then feeling not as connected is a part of therapy.
(A note to clients: If your therapist talks to their own therapist about you, your confidentiality is still safe. For one thing, any therapist your own therapist talks to has to keep everything confidential. For another thing, unless you’re being treated by several therapists, like in a hospital or intensive program, therapists don’t usually name names. When I talk to my therapist about my own experiences, I say things like ‘my Wednesday afternoon client’ or ‘my newest client’. I’m talking about a worry or feeling I’m having, not giving out details about you.)
Back to talking about connection: That’s right – feeling less connected sometimes is a part of the relationship. It’s a part of therapy, and not only is it okay, I think it’s good. Up above, where I talked about it being important to be able to have all kinds of emotions and feelings with your therapist? Feeling less, saying less, having less connection is one way of having a feeling. If it’s okay to feel more in therapy; to say things you don’t say to anyone else, or to bring out all the upset, uncomfortable, extreme thoughts and feelings for therapy, then it’s also okay to have the opposite.
Feeling less connection is a level of feeling. It’s not a very comfortable level for a lot of people. Most people need connection. We’re social creatures. Therapists are in a profession where we work with a lot of feelings. We might feel even less comfortable with a lack of connection. All of us – clients, therapists, people who aren’t in therapy – need our relationships, our groups, our connections. But it’s still okay to be connected enough to someone to not have to feel as much just then. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, to be connected enough that you can feel less connected. But it’s a level of feeling. It’s okay to feel less connected for that session.
So that’s what I, as a therapist and as a client, want you to know today. I want you to know that it’s okay to have different levels of connection. For clients, less connection once in a while means your therapist still cares, they’re still paying attention to you, you matter just as much. Therapists, just reverse that. You still care, your client still matters, and you can feel different levels of connection and know you haven’t done anything to damage the therapeutic relationship. Not only is therapy still going on, but I think it’s an important part of therapy. I think it’s the level of connection where we can feel differently, and know that the therapist will still be there. If we, as clients, can feel less connected sometimes and know our therapists are still there, we’ve traveled another few steps on a path of trust and communication. That’s a pretty good thing.

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