Confronting Your Therapist

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Although a therapist is a professional, this does not mean that being deferential to them is in your best interests as a client. If you feel that you are not making progress, or that your therapist does not ‘get’ you or what you are saying, it is time to speak up.

Although a therapist is a professional, this does not mean that being deferential to them is in your best interests as a client. If you feel that you are not making progress, or that your therapist does not ‘get’ you or what you are saying, it is time to speak up.

How to Really Talk to Your Therapist: Four Collaborative Steps, an article by Steven Frankel from the Center for Collaborative Psychology and Psychiatry, urges clients who are frustrated by their therapy to take steps towards more effective communication with their therapists.

Taking ownership of therapy is an important shift in attitude. The therapist is there to help you. You are, at the end of the day, probably paying for them to do so. You need to be active and voice your concerns, and if your therapist is competent then they will be pleased to hear them and use them to work out new ways of proceeding with you as an active partner.

Frankel advises that preparing what to say first might be helpful — writing down concerns, changes required, questions, which might disappear in the anxiety that might be felt in the actual presence of the therapist — and working out how to say it in a non-threatening way. Although therapists are, of course, well placed to take threatening behaviour, they are also human beings, and all human beings are likely to feel a degree of defensiveness when attacked; the same point may feel less threatening when put in “I” language, e.g., “I don’t feel we’re making progress” rather than “you don’t know what you’re doing!”

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On the other hand, the anger may be an integral part of the message, in which case it could be separated out, “and I feel angry and let down because I expected…”

If you do find yourself stuck in conflict with your therapist, who sticks to their own view of how best to work, Frankel suggests bringing a third party such as another therapist to act as consultant. I am not sure that this is worth the time and energy.

Apart from clear boundary issues, or legal issues, I find it hard to think of a circumstance in which actively overriding the clients’ wishes for the direction of therapy would be appropriate, or effective. For me, the essence of therapy is the fact that the therapist works as hard as possible to sense exactly what the client themselves feels is right, and works alongside the client to generate together the best possible “solutions” to the discomfort that they bring.

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