When talking with my peers about their experiences in therapy, two contrasting thoughts come up again and again:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn more about Rebecca’s approach to therapy and book your free phone consultation here, or connect with Rebecca by email — [email protected].