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Trust and Disappointment in Psychotherapy

What about the fear of disappointing your therapist?

Fear of disappointment is a common concern amongst many clients who are in psychotherapy, newcomers and old-timers alike. In fact, as a client stays in therapy with a single therapist over a long period of time, the fear of disappointment grows. This fear is a natural reaction for a person to experience. After all, who wants to disappoint someone who’s opinion and advice we’ve grown to not only accept and rely upon, but also who’s opinion we now expect and respect. What if we don’t live up to our therapist’s expectations for us? What if we don’t get better as quickly as our psychotherapist wants us to?

Nearly everybody experiences feelings of disappointment in their lives. It’s normal. To not ever experience the feeling of disappointment is to lead a life of having zero expectations of others, and very few people can do that. But some disappointments are small and inconsequential, and are quickly forgotten. Other disappointments are larger, and can impact our ability to have an ongoing relationship or friendship with that person. It is these kinds of disappointments you should try and become attuned to in therapy.

Therapists Are Human Too

Here’s the little known secret most therapists won’t share with you – they’re human and so yes, they experience disappointment from time to time in their clients. Some will be honest with that emotion and feel it’s appropriate to express to their clients. Others have been trained to deal with those feelings (sometimes referred to as countertransference in some psychological orientations) on their own and not with the client. So the way your therapist will come to terms and talk about their disappointment (or not talk about it) will vary.

So it may be left up to you whether or not you should bring up a disappointing behavior in therapy. If you feel something you did (or didn’t do) is likely going to disappoint your therapist, and it is a significant issue, you may want to approach the topic with your therapist. You have to make a judgment call, though. Things like being a few minutes late to a session, missing a session altogether, or not doing your last week’s session homework are not big issues for most therapists. Nobody’s perfect and most therapists understand you can’t be on-time to every session all of the time, or complete all the agreed-upon homework assignments like a robot. There will be steps back and most therapists are trained to expect these. Therefore these kinds of things will not be disappointing to most therapists.

However, if your therapist expresses disappointment in your behavior in a session, take what they have to say and move on. Dwelling on disappointment won’t change past behaviors, so only future behaviors are important to focus on. If, however, you seem to keep disappointing your therapist over and over again, perhaps there is something that is putting up a roadblock to progress in psychotherapy. That would be an ideal issue to explore further with your therapist in your next therapy session.

Remember, It’s Human and Natural to be Afraid

Most people fear fear. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and we seek to avoid it at almost all costs. But fear is just another human emotion that can be embraced and set free once understood. It’s normal to be a little afraid of a stranger you’re coming to for help, and to be a little distrustful at first. That will fade with time and working with your therapist on the issues that bring you into therapy. Being afraid of disappointing your therapist is also a natural reaction to therapy, as you progress and begin to grow. You want to do your best, not only for yourself but also for your therapist, a person whom you’ve come to grow to trust and respect. But your therapist knows you will not always succeed at everything you’re going to try, and will have their expectations tempered by their experience. In the end, you need to learn to become comfortable with yourself, discovering your limits, and understanding that change will come with time and patience. Trust and believe in yourself, and trusting in others will come more easily.

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 October 17, 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
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