Therapy is a unique experience. Is there anywhere else you can go that offers you a stress free environment and allows you to do all the talking? Will anyone other than your therapist listen to your troubles for 45 minutes without interruption? Even your mother will change the subject after a while. Do your friends have enough patience to remain quiet and calm while you rage? Do they have enough consideration to not argue with your opinions, refrain from cutting you off or judge you? No matter how well they know you, do friends have the training to intuit what you mean, validate your feelings or say just the right thing? And can they do all of that with ambient lighting and a comfy couch?
Sure, clients are happy when their therapists make them feel better. What about those times when therapists are inscrutable? When questions are asked and left unanswered, or when therapists ask questions that are like riddles? If you would like answers to questions many clients have about what is going on in therapy, read on….
Why do therapists show so little emotion?
It’s not because emotions aren’t being felt by your therapist. Your story is moving, your pain is palpable, your joy is infectious. Therapists are trained to contain emotions that are too strong for their clients to manage. At some point in your journey if all goes well, you will see some emotions from your therapist. And when you do, realize it’s a sign of your own ability to tolerate strong emotions. Congratulations, you are doing better than you thought!
Why do therapists answer questions with a question?
Do you want to know what I think? I think you have more talking to do, so I will ask you to do it instead of answering your questions. That said, sometimes clients are in need of insight and guidance. If that’s their goal, they will get answers. If therapy is for personal growth, then why is the therapist’s opinion more important than your own?
Can I know if my therapist lives in my town, has been to my favorite restaurant, or is married, or has children?
Your therapist is a helping professional. If the answers to those questions are therapeutic for you and helpful to you, they can be answered. The burden of proof as to why and how that information will help you is on you, the client. Do you want to know a secret? Once you finish explaining how the information you request will be therapeutic and helpful, you will no longer care about the answers. Try it sometime!
Can my therapist read my mind? Sometimes it feels that way…
Therapists aren’t mind-readers or psychics. Therapists with many years of experience have heard a wide variety of stories from their clients and they have discovered patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are similar. What may look like a leap of intuition to you is really a deep understanding of human behavior, and lots of experience. Keep in mind your therapist only knows what you tell them. You do not need to worry that your therapist will know more about you than you choose to disclose. Your secrets are safe inside but it’s more helpful to you to disclose them.
Why can’t my therapist just understand what I am saying? Why do I have to state the obvious or repeat myself?
Sure, your therapist can probably guess how your loss feels to you. But is that really helpful to you? Your “cure” is in the telling of your thoughts and feelings. And sometimes, you will repeat your story, why? Because it changes over time. The past doesn’t change but the way you describe it may because the way you feel about your past may change. Your feelings are supposed to change over time, as does your thoughts and behavior. So if you are asked to repeat or state the obvious, know that it will bring progress for you.
How will I know when I’m done with therapy?
That’s up to you. Have you met your goals? You may be done then. Do you feel better, more confident, less sad or anxious, more comfortable in your own skin? Are you able to love yourself? Are you getting what you want in life? This may be your cue to end therapy. If you still don’t know, ask your therapist….
About the Author…
Elissa Grunblatt, LCSW has spent most of her career working within the non-profit world, first with the severely and persistently mentally ill, and then as the director of two clinics. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Adelphi University and currently is the Owner/President of a multi-clinician private practice counseling center in Amityville, NY.
Who’ll Stop the Blame?
Turn negative self-talk around for good
By: christina vercelletto
Being self-depricating can be funny and even healthy at times. but relying on the defense mechanism too often can become a problem.
Most people, women especially, seem to be their own worst critics, perhaps without even realizing it. Why is it so easy to fall back on self-disparaging remarks about appearance, competence or inteligence? Experts say the causes vary, but most commonly stem from embarrassment, low self-esteem from being raised in an overly-critical family, or a hope that the listener will actually contradict them. But such default responses “are an indirect plea for help that usually goes unanswered,” said Elissa Grunblatt, a social worker and owner of South Bay Counseling in Amityville. The reasons may vary, but one thing is universal: it’s a damaging habit. Over time, it convinces the brain that positive change isn’t possible. Worse, for those who have kids, “They may always wonder if you harbor the same criticisms about them,even if you don’t say it out loud,” noted Pulse therapy columnist Dr. Susan Bartell, a psychologist in Port Washington. Do some of these seemingly-innocent catch phrases sound familiar? Then it’s time to make them a foreign language.
“I’m such an idiot!”
Typical context: A thoughtless word slips out or you spilled a coffee.
First step to stopping: Separate your behavior from you as a person, said Dr. Bartell. Think about future solutions instead of focusing on the current incident.
What to say instead: “Everyone says some thingtactless once in a while. Iknow that’s not really who I am, Iwill apologize and move on,” or “I tend to spill or drop things when I’m rushing. I’d better save hot drinks for when I’m on schedule.” Isn’t it just as good to say nothing? No, at least not at first, our experts agreed. Those who have grown used to spitting out such comments may not be able to resist the impulse without a better alternative at the ready.Also, recasting negative thoughts into positive ones out loud helps to re-train the brain
“I wish I could wear that dress”
Typical context: A friend perceived as somehow physically “superior” is wearing an outfit that looks great on her.
First step to stopping: Take a good long look at yourself, but only with a positive eye, said George Bein, Personal Trainer and Rehab Therapist at Healthtrax Fitness in Garden City. “Decide which part of your body you like best.” Then, dress to emphasize that feature. Bein has had clients beat themselves up because they couldn’t wear the “perfect” dress to an event. “But what’s perfect for one isn’t always, or even usually, perfect for another. Fixating on the fact that what looks amazing on your five-eight friend with no hips doesn’t look amazing on your petite, pear-shaped frame, only makes it harder to motivate yourself to get into the best shape you can, and to recognize the clothes that will look killer on you,” explained Bein.
What to say instead: “What style of dress do you think would look that good on me?”
“I can never remember anything!”
Typical context: The milk is forgotten, the appointment was next Wednesday or a friend seems slightly annoyed when asked a question she answered earlier that day.
First step to stopping: Look for clues as to why so much is forgotten, suggested Patricia Pitta Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Manhasset. Possible reasons include being overwhelmed and exhausted with too much to do and not really wanting to do or face some things, said Pitta. “Rather than investing energy into putting yourself down, find ways to change your behavior. It’s better to face your feelings and take responsibility for them than to embarrass yourself.”
What to say instead: “I made a mistake, but I can go back for the milk/reschedule my appointment/ pay closer attention when my friends are talking.”
“I could never do that”
Typical context: A compliment to a friend on an accomplishmentmemorable party, beautiful decorating project. successful fund-raising event-quickly devolves into dragging oneself down.
First step to stopping: Swap in curiosity for that feeling of defeat, advised Grunblatt. Instead of spending time sharing a negative self-image, show a desire to learn from that person. It’s flattering and certainly makes for a more comfortable conversation than putting someone in the position of having to offer reassurance. Focus on what can be done to create your own success.
What to say instead: Ask any of the following: “What was the first step in making that happen?” “What was the hardest part, and how did you handle it?” “Did you ever get frustrated or doubt yourself? Any advice for handling those feelings?”