People who go into psychotherapy frequently report good experiences where the patient feels understood and well-supported by the therapist, who uses his or her therapeutic skills to facilitate a discovery and healing process.
But what if your therapy frustrates you? What if your therapist is off base and you don’t seem to be making progress? What happens if you can’t communicate with your therapist?
Here are several tips for getting more out of your therapy by learning how to really communicate with your therapist.
Take ownership of your therapy
It’s tempting to believe your therapist has all the answers, and it may seem easiest to let the therapist make all decisions about treatment. You might even feel afraid of asking questions or discussing concerns about your therapy.
Remember that therapists are human beings and have the same flaws as the rest of us. Therapy is a subjective process, and the therapist can only give his or her own subjectively colored opinion, which has been shaped by his training and life experiences. That viewpoint may not always be the right one for you.
As the “consumer” in the therapy partnership, it’s your responsibility to look after your best interests and to be an active participant in your therapy. If something isn’t working, it’s up to you to talk about it with your therapist. The message is clear: Take your therapist off the pedestal and take ownership of your therapy.
Plan out what to say in advance
As an active partner in your own therapy, you may need to express concerns, ask questions, or even give your therapist negative feedback about how you believe the therapy is going. Confronting your therapist with your concerns may be difficult, but it can be made easier if you plan out what you want to say.
Before talking to your therapist, take a few minutes to organize your thoughts. Write down your concerns, the specific changes you want to request, and any questions you want to ask. Next, review what you’ve written with an eye for how you are planning to express yourself. If your tone or words are accusatory, it may be difficult to have a productive conversation with the therapist.
A useful way to phrase your statements is with “I” language, such as “I feel confused” or “I see things this way.” You will want to make it clear that you are not necessarily putting the therapist in the wrong; you are simply talking about how therapy is working or not working, from your perspective. “I” language feels much less confrontational than outright criticism, and keeps the door open for discussion and negotiation without the other person becoming defensive.
For example, you might say, “I feel like my therapy isn’t going very well and I’m not sure we’re on the same page; can we talk about that today?” This is more likely to set a positive tone than, “This just isn’t working because you don’t understand me!”