Approaching Difficult Conversations With Your Therapist
“How do I tell him/her?”
If you have ever been to therapy before, there is a possibility that the question above popped into your head at some point. If you have never been to therapy before, but are considering it or have been thinking about it, this blog post will explain the importance of addressing difficult conversations with your therapist or future therapist.
Handling expectations and finances
Just like many other things, therapy is an investment of time and money. Many people erroneously think that that their lifelong struggles can be over in just two therapy sessions. This is just not realistic for several reasons. The first one is that your therapist doesn’t know you. Maybe you talked to him or her on the phone before your first session, but he or she will have to continue to assess many variables (especially in the first few sessions) in order to get to know you.
The second reason is that you have probably been engaging in some sort of pattern or behavior for quite some time (think dynamic with your partner for instance). Maybe you both decide to seek couples therapy because you have felt disconnected for a while or have been fighting intensely for months. One or two sessions will probably not change the way you have been relating to each other these past months. Therapy is a process and for that reason, you need to feel comfortable with whatever fee you and your therapist agreed on. Some therapists will work with you based on a fee that you can afford, while other therapists have a set fee, so it will be up to you whether or not you want to work with that therapist. Nevertheless, it is very important that you speak up if the fee is inconvenient for you. Therapists will either work with you or talk about other options (e.g. referrals).
“My therapist did not understand what I was trying to say”
Do NOT stay quiet about this. If you feel like your therapist did not get you, let him or her know. As therapists, we are trying to figure out what is going on in your life. The reality is that we can be spot on, but we could also get it wrong. It is extremely important that you let us know if that is the case, so that we have a clearer picture of what your experience is like. You can simply say something like: “I don’t think that is what I meant, what I meant is….” or “Actually no, it is more like this…” Please correct us! I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t think that you will hurt our feelings or disrespect us by correcting us.
“My therapist said something that triggered me”
No therapist is a divine, perfect, human being. This could happen, either early in therapy or maybe a few months later. If something that your therapist said triggered you and made you feel uncomfortable, sad, frustrated, annoyed, disappointed—whatever it is—tell him/her. If you really like and trust your therapist, explaining what happened inside of you as he/she said X, can be very powerful. I encourage you to try it before dropping therapy and leaving. It is normal that close relationships experience some sort of rupture, but repair can be possible and practicing it can turn out to be good experience. Ruptures are opportunities to strengthen a relationship. Also, examining what triggered you is part of the therapeutic process, and there is a lot that both the therapist and client can learn from that.
“I am ready to finish therapy, but I don’t know how to say it”
Sometimes, your therapist might be the one bringing up the idea of termination; other times you might be the one thinking about it. If you had already made a decision or are contemplating it, tell your therapist. Your decision could be based on finances or on simply feeling like you are ready to move forward on your own. Whatever the reason is, it is always a good idea for both you and your therapist to be on the same page, and to have at least one “termination” session. Usually, this is where you both can talk about what you learned from the process, form each other, what shifted or changed, and things to keep in mind for the future.
Trust your gut, and if you ever want to say something but are too shy or afraid to say it, take a deep breath and try to express it. Therapists will not criticize you for opening up about your internal experience.
Stephanie Páez, M.A., LMFT-A is a bilingual Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate practicing in Austin, Texas.