Psychotherapy differs from our normal day to day interactions in many ways. In the following article, I will explore some of the quirks of psychotherapy.
1. In therapy, it’s perfectly normal to speak ONLY about yourself.
Many people who start therapy initially find it very self-indulgent, foreign and peculiar to spend an hour only talking about themselves.
Some more anxious clients may worry that they come across too self-centred and others just may find it strange to have a space dedicated completely to themselves.
It’s important to know, you can leave the social niceties of reciprocal conversation behind in therapy and make it all about you! Actually, you are encouraged to explore and verbalize any thought that comes into your mind, no matter how frivolous or arbitrary these may be.
What you speak about, does not have to be well thought out and neatly packaged and it’s okay speak in an unfiltered way. It is actually when you are able to do this, that important unconscious material is more readily available.
It’s the job of your therapist to take the chaos of many different and seemingly conflicting thoughts and unravel the themes and feelings underlying them.
The sky is the limit when it comes to what you can talk about in therapy. These can include the tuna sandwich which you ate two hours ago, recurring dreams, angry fantasies about your boss and the painful memories from the past. It is a space where you are allowed to be completely yourself without worrying about what is okay and not okay to talk about.
In the beginning phases of therapy allowing yourself to freely share the contents of your mind might leave you feeling quite vulnerable. However, it’s good to know that if this happens, it is also something that can be spoken about with your therapist.
2. Therapy is NOT a space where you will be told how to live your life.
To some, this may be a grave disappointment but if you go to any good-enough therapist you will not be told how to live your life or be given concrete “pop psychology” advice about how to change your life. If you are looking for someone to do that, then psychotherapy is not the right space.
Empowerment is the foundation of most therapies and at the core of our work is the belief that our clients already have the inner resources to solve their own problems. If we just gave advice, we would be fostering a dependency on us. Even worse we would be teaching you that you cannot trust your own voice and that you need others to tell you what to do. This way of constructing therapy often feeds the very pathology clients come for help with.
Most paradigms in psychology hold a core belief that each client has the capacity for problem solving and resourcefulness. Each client has the ability to connect to others, to love and to be loved, to be productive and live meaningfully.
Our job as psychotherapists is to unblock the anxieties, fears and false beliefs that prevent you from your own potential. For psychologists, our greatest success is when you no longer need us!
3. You will be asked strange questions about your relationship with your therapist, so brace yourself.
It is not uncommon in therapy to be asked what might seem like strange questions about how you feel about your therapist and if something you did outside of therapy is connected to something that happened in a past session.
To the “untherapized” ear, this might seem odd. Yet in a therapy context, it is quite normal. The rationale behind this, is that the therapeutic relationship is often a useful mirror to many of your other important relationships.
Often, if you can understand what is happening in the room with your therapist, you can use that understanding to try a healthier kind of interaction. This, in turn, serves as a model for trying something different in other areas of your life.
Consequently, when your therapist asks you odd questions about what is happening between you two, you may initially think what is this person going on about? You don’t know her or him that well, it’s absurd that you might feel that way! Once those initial thoughts have gone, give yourself a little space to explore the comment or question and see if it holds any merit, or if it brings up something important for you.
4. Therapy cannot provide you with the will to change
Some people come to therapy with the secret wish that their therapist will infuse in them a newfound will to change their lives. This is unfortunately not the case, one thing therapy can never do is instill “will” in another.
Without your will to change the unhealthy parts of your life and the openness to explore all aspects of yourself, save your money and don’t start therapy!
It is this drive for more in your life and a hunger for living in a healthier more authentic way that is a prerequisite for therapy and cannot be found from your therapist or from anyone else.
5. Unfortunately, we do sometimes ask the stereotyped question, “How does that make you feel?”
Although psychologists comment on many things, we are prone to sometimes asking the very stereotyped question “How does that make you feel?”
This especially happens with our more neurotic patients who have a tendency to intellectualize and rationalize their experiences and struggle to connect to their emotions. These emotions although often cut off from their experience find other ways of coming out, which are often not very healthy.
Questions like “how does that make you feel?” shifts your focus from thinking about why something happened and how it happened, to sitting with yourself and the reality of things. In this way, you connect to your body and mind, which leads to having more constructive conversations about the situation.