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Trust and Disappointment in Psychotherapy

It is not easy to trust one’s therapist at the onset. You are both strangers to one another, thrown together by a situation which is artificial at best, uncomfortable at worst. You’re paying a professional for their experience and expertise to help you at a difficult time in your life. Trust does not always come easily in such a situation. And once trusted, how do you ever live up to your therapist’s expectations? After all, you can’t disappoint this professional, now that you’ve learned to trust them. This article examines these two common and interlinked issues in psychotherapy.

Learning to Trust in Psychotherapy

“Opening up” in therapy is one of the most difficult things a person learns how to do. It is not natural for most people to openly talk about their innermost secrets, fears, and issues that they struggle with on a daily basis. It is especially not natural for most people to have such a conversation with a complete stranger. It is a process that often must be learn, bit by bit, session by session. Sometimes the therapist can help in this process, and sometimes the therapist is of little help whatsoever.

Learning to trust your therapist is difficult for many people who enter psychotherapy. For a newcomer entering psychotherapy for the first time, an individual doesn’t quite know what to expect. For instance, some teenagers have heard that a therapist must tell their parents everything that goes on in session. For adults, they’re not sure whether what they’ll say is going to be judged by the therapist (even if that judgment is not verbalized by the therapist). Being “told on” or being judged are things that most people seek to avoid.

So how does one learn to trust their therapist?

Trust is the foundation of nearly every professional and social relationship we have. Trust is usually earned through the process of communicating with a person over time. People who trust too easily may find themselves being taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals (and yes, there are some therapists in that category as well). People who never open themselves up to trusting another will find it difficult to grow and welcome change into their lives. Since learning how to change is the foundation of psychotherapy, being closed to the person who can help you learn to change will make therapeutic progress slow (or non-existent).

Most therapists have been trained and have learned through years of experience that not every client is the same when it comes to trusting them and learning to be talkative in psychotherapy session. A good therapist will recognize your silence or difficult talking about important issues in your life and will talk you through it. This in itself is a delicate process, but you must be willing to take the first step of saying to your therapist,

“You’re right. Talking about this stuff is difficult and I’m scared. I’m not sure I can trust you or not. But I also realize that coming to session and not talking isn’t helping either. So here goes…”

Yes, it will indeed feel like you just jumped off a cliff. But with an experience and skilled therapist, they will be there to help you find a way to gently glide back down to Earth and take the next steps toward change in your life.

Once trust takes root, it grows gradually and invisibly over time. Within a few sessions, most people have learned to trust their therapist implicitly, even with issues they thought they would never feel comfortable sharing. If trust for you takes a little longer, don’t fret. For some people, trust in general is an issue in their lives and everyday relationships. If this describes you, you should consider bringing trust itself up as an issue to be discussed in therapy. After all, how will difficulties with trusting ever be helped if you can’t talk about them with the one person who can help you with it?

Trust and Disappointment in Psychotherapy


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Trust and Disappointment in Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/trust-and-disappointment-in-psychotherapy/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.