What can I tell my therapist? (part 2)
In my last blog post we discussed some topics that can be difficult for many of us to bring up in therapy. In this post I want to address the last 5 on this list:
sex and intimacy
details of trauma (especially sexual trauma)
race based stress and trauma
political opinions/human rights issues
shame and guilt
ruptures in the therapeutic relationship
ending therapy or decreasing session frequency
crying and the fear of being judged
the fact that your therapist is a person too
Okay, let's jump right in!
6. Any experience that makes us feel foolish, judged, wrong or humiliated can be hard to talk about in therapy. And some times admitting that something makes us feel shame or guilt can be painful within itself. Shame makes us want to cover our faces, hunch our shoulders, and maybe get so small that we wish we could just disappear. Coincidentally, the best thing we can do to neutralize the pain of shame and guilt, is to talk about it! By naming it, we bring it out of the dark and prove that we are worthy of light. Often times when we talk about the parts of us that carry shame and guilt, we see that it is exaggerated, old or wasn't ours to begin with. Understanding the origin of shame and guilt are integral in healing. Remember, just because you feel shame or guilt doesn't mean you are bad or have done something bad. But if we never name this in session, we might not never know.
7. "Ruptures in the therapeutic relationship," can mean any interaction with your therapist that leads you to feel hurt, misunderstood, untrusting, or upset. We call these "ruptures" because they make it hard to continue our work together until we have healed them. Let's say your therapist said a comment that was offensive or just didn't sit right with you. This can make it impossible to talk about vulnerable topics like those we are discussing, or even want to continue working with the therapist. If you notice yourself feeling anxiety after a session, and keep thinking about something that was said or done, that is a good sign that whatever it is needs to be addressed.*
Now with all that said, giving this type of feedback can be extremely difficult, to anyone let alone your therapist, whose goal should be to be a safe person for you. And it is because this that therapists should be open to feedback, critique and take responsibility for their actions, regardless of intention.
Here is a script to help with this: "It is because I value our work together that I need to bring up that when you said/did X it made me feel X."
*Disclaimer: there may be some things that would not be appropriate or safe for you to address and instead a formal complaint should be registered with the appropriate licensing board. Register complaints in the state of California for psychologists here and MFTs/LCSWs here.
8. After working with your therapist for a while you might find that you are ready to reduce session frequency or maybe you are feeling like the goals you originally had for therapy have been met and you are ready to stop therapy completely. These are both absolutely appropriate topics to bring up with your therapist, so that you can collaborate on a plan that works for you. This may look like meeting every other week instead of every week, or focusing on the celebrating the gains in therapy and processing healthy goodbyes in one or more termination sessions. Some people can feel awkward bringing this up, for fear of hurting their therapists feelings or perhaps they have a hard time saying goodbye. Remember, if you are feeling like you met your goals, your therapist will want to celebrate this with you and perhaps help you make a plan so that you continue moving down this new path that you are on. And if goodbyes are hard, what better place to talk about this than in therapy? Hopefully you will have a restorative experience and be able to access pride in meeting yet another goal of therapy.
9. Crying can be a difficult thing to do in front of anyone, even your therapist, perhaps because of stereotypes like, "men don't cry," or, "crying is weak." Well, I am here to tell you that not only is it okay to cry in therapy, it is okay to cry in general! Crying actually releases chemicals that make us feel better, it is one of our bodies adaptive coping mechanism. So if you are feeling uncomfortable crying for fear of being judged, it might be helpful to bring this up, and hopefully have your therapist reassure you that this is a nonjudgmental space.
10. The therapeutic relationship is by definition one sided, as the focus is on the client's goals and feelings, and not the therapist's. After all, you might think, therapists are people too. This can feel odd especially for those new to therapy, or who tend to be used to taking on caregiving roles and/or not taking up space or focusing on their own needs. Every therapist has different boundaries when it comes to what they disclose to clients, however the general rule is that whatever information is shared, is for the client's best interest.
For example, as we discussed in the previous blog post, disclosing political beliefs, race or religion may be very important to treatment, and thus clinically appropriate. However, perhaps asking how their day was/if they are married or single may not be clinically appropriate, or perhaps could negatively effect treatment to discuss. If you are feeling any sort of way about this, it is important talk about this with your therapist so you can understand the boundaries and hopefully be reassured that this is your space, and you deserve to take it up.
It is also okay to ask your therapist if they have their own therapist, if it would be helpful for you to know that they have their own space in order to feel more comfortable in your own session.
Therapists are people too, and we are people trained to do this work, practice what we teach and take care of ourselves so that we can care for others.
If you are interested in working with me, and discussing all the above and more with out judgement or shame, please contact me through my website, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 818-465-8516.