What To Do When Something Feels Off In Therapy
In this week’s post, NYC therapist Rebecca Gerstein helps us to understand why it is important that we are honest and open with our therapist about how we are feeling during the therapy relationship, even if we think what we have to say is something that may be difficult for them to hear.
About the Author: Rebecca Gerstein is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and therapist, with a private practice in Manhattan. She holds her Master's degree in social work from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.
Rebecca specializes in grief and loss for individuals in their 20s and 30s. Rebecca works from a social justice, feminist and body positive lens.
Trends in Therapy
When talking with my peers about their experiences in therapy, two contrasting thoughts come up again and again:
First, they both love and respect their therapist.
Second, they are dissatisfied with at least one aspect of their particular therapist-client relationship, and they don’t want to tell their therapist about it.
Something Feels Off
People are often hesitant to tell their therapists that there is something missing or that there is something about the therapy that they do not like. We may be afraid or embarrassed to give our therapists feedback. Or maybe we’re simply giving them the benefit of the doubt. However, being candid with your therapist can yield much gain for you, both in and out of the therapy room.
Giving Honest Feedback
Because therapy does not exist inside a vacuum and must be viewed through the lens of factors like race, sex, gender, class, age, and level of education, giving your therapist honest feedback may be especially layered and complex. In addition, there’s the power discrepancy that results from one person being the therapist and the other the client. Unavoidably, elements of power and privilege are always at play, and this can inhibit open communication. Most therapists make an effort to practice collaboratively, yet many things are still left unsaid.
For instance, a friend shared that their therapist would often ask “where in your body did that emotion land?” and my friend, not a-somatically-oriented person, hated this question, but never told her.
Another friend told me she’s reluctant to bring up sex in therapy because her therapist looks a little disgusted every time the subject is broached. Instead of inquiring about her therapist’s reaction, my friend decided to never mention sex in therapy again.
I spoke with yet another friend who secretly thought her therapist did not hold the proper credentials to be working with her. Rather than articulating this suspicion to her therapist, my friend ultimately stopped seeing her.
Another friend confided in me that she feels she goes to therapy week after week to gossip with her therapist. Rather than request more concrete tools and structure in her sessions, this friend continues seeing her therapist hoping for a different kind of therapeutic relationship, while never uttering a word.
Be honest with your therapist about anything you do not find helpful. Therapy is about you and your needs. As therapists, our ability to help you is hindered when something we said was hurtful or annoying -- especially if you don’t tell us about it.
Honesty in therapy is helpful to both parties. As therapists, we want to know if you want homework, or if our homework stresses you out. We also want to know about bigger things like sexual abuse, or a history of substance abuse. Of course it’s normal to feel some shame around certain things and hesitate to tell us. However, being more honest in therapy can lead to more productive sessions.
Open and honest communication with your therapist can lead to more authentic relationships across the board.
Please tell us what you want. For one person, this meant saying to their therapist that she didn’t like the “awkward” silences and wanted conversation to flow more smoothly. For others, it might mean telling your therapist you feel judged by something they said or that they did not quite get your point.
Talking about how you feel with your therapist in real time can be even more powerful than talking about what is happening outside of therapy.
There are many benefits to maintaining a transparent stance with your therapist. Therapy is a “parallel process.” What you learn in therapy, you practice in life. Therefore, when you’re able to have open communication with your therapist, in a safe, accepting space, you will be more likely to practice these skills with your family, friends, and colleagues.
Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist what you like, what you hate, what you feel is missing. Help your therapist help you.
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your perspective with us today and for helping us to understand how transparency during therapy is helpful for the process.
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