“I’ve shared more in my blog than I could ever tell my therapist.”
“I wish my therapist could read this online support group. Then they might begin to understand what I’m really going through.”
You’ve gathered up the energy and resources to start psychotherapy. It’s a big step and you’re excited to begin. But you find yourself unable to talk in therapy. What’s the point of talk therapy without the talking? We find it so incredibly easy to open up online, but when we’re in the therapy office, we become suddenly mute.
There are many strategies to help “open up” and be able to talk more freely while in psychotherapy. Here are a few.
1. Write it down.
One of the easiest ways to help overcome your fear or inability to talk in therapy is to write down some things that are important to you to talk about before session. Jot it down on a piece of paper, or keep a “therapy journal” even of topics or areas of your life that you want to talk about, you just find it difficult. Bring it to session, open it up, and pick a topic for that session.
2. Let the therapist guide you.
A psychotherapist’s main job is to act as a guide in your recovery and healing process. They are not there to necessarily give you all the answers, but help you find your own way to those answers (often with specific skills and techniques they can teach to help you better understand your interconnected moods and thoughts).
3. Reset your expectations.
Some people believe you need to go into your weekly therapy session with a “topic” to discuss. While sometimes that may indeed be the case — especially if the therapist has given you “homework” on a specific topic — it may also be that each session may already be full. Therapy would be of little benefit if you go into every session and talk non-stop for 50 minutes.
Remember, you’re not there to entertain your therapist, or to tell stories to maintain their interest. You’re there to do real work, some of which is going to involve talking about the past week in your life, but not to such an extent or in so much detail it overshadows the reason you’re in therapy to begin with.
4. Prepare for each session.
Sometimes people put off preparing for each therapy session. Either it becomes too unwieldy, or it becomes too much like real work. Well, psychotherapy is real work and is often hard. If you prepare for each session beforehand, you’re more likely to be ready to have a topic to talk about.
Not preparing for a therapy session or waiting until the last minute may inadvertently make it more difficult to talk. Imagine going to a conference or big meeting where are you the main speaker, and you only prepare your speech minutes beforehand. Naturally you’re going to be more flustered and less likely to speak well. Preparation is key. Not just for speeches or meetings, but for anything worthwhile in life.
5. Think of your therapist as the closest confidante you can ever share anything with.
In childhood, we often have a best friend or two we felt like we could share anything with. Sometimes we maintain these friendships, and other times they fade away for whatever reasons.
Therapists are your adult equivalent of someone you can share almost anything with (except for some things that are illegal, like murder, or suicide). That is a part of the special joy of a psychotherapy relationship. Here is a person who can tell them anything you want about yourself, and they won’t judge, they won’t insult or berate, and they won’t just leave you unexpectedly (within their abilities, anyway). It’s such a valuable and unique relationship that’s to your benefit to take advantage of as much as possible.
6. Ask your therapist to read your online blog entry, Facebook page, or support group posting.
I would do this very rarely indeed, but it’s okay to share the occasional blog entry or support group posting, if you feel like it indeed puts into words you can’t bring yourself to verbalize in session. Keep in mind that most psychotherapists are fairly busy — as is anyone in a full-time job — so they’re not going to have time to read all of your blog entries dating back from 5 years ago.
However, if you pick out one entry or one posting that really expresses how you feel or what you’re grappling with at that moment, that’s fine. Most therapists appreciate that additional insight into their patient, especially for one who may be having trouble talking or opening up in therapy.
As I’ve written previously about, though, don’t open up just to lie to your therapist. Little benefit comes from lying about your true feelings or how well you’re actually doing (versus the mask you may put on for your therapist).
One last thing — silence is okay once in awhile too. Although for most of us, an extended silence between two people engaged in a conversation can be uncomfortable, it’s something you can learn to become comfortable with in time. Therapists often won’t rush in to fill the silence, because most are comfortable with it. Don’t feel the need to say something just to fill the void, either. Give it some time, and perhaps the words will find themselves.