The therapeutic relationship is essential to your success in therapy. And so, remember, you play a critical role in shaping how your therapist interacts with you. Here are 5 suggestions on how to build a strong foundation with your therapist:
1) Take the time to find the right therapist. Conduct phone consultations with at least two therapists so you can compare them over the phone before investing your time and money into a full session. It’s not fun telling your story over and over again, so invest the time upfront “interviewing” therapists over the phone to find someone you think you’ll vibe well with.
2) Give your therapist at least 3 sessions before making a decision to end therapy with them. The initial session or two are can oftentimes be awkward as you adjust to the therapy process and your therapist. These sessions may not be representative of what ongoing sessions may look like with your therapist.
3) If you know what sort of approach you’re seeking, don’t be afraid to let your therapist know. I vibe’d well with my first therapist and I would have to credit that to my frank approach—I remember telling my therapist in one of our first sessions, “I just want to let you know that I’m in sales and I can likely persuade you that I’m right in whatever I’m sharing, but I want you to push back on me. What I don’t need is validation and what I want is to explore a perspective I might be missing. Although most of the time I am usually right...” We both laughed and I think this broke the ice for both of us and we could really start doing the work that I wanted to get done.
4) If your therapist upsets you or offends you, speak up. Ideally you’d want to speak up in the moment or as soon as the next session, because not addressing it will likely negatively impact your relationship with your therapist. You don’t want to be distracted on this issue or hold a grudge against your therapist because this will block your progress in therapy.
5) Lastly, define goals with your therapist and revisit them together. Although, not every session can be centered around your therapy goals and progress, because let’s be real- life happens and sometimes we need to use our sessions to address pressing issues, it’s still important to revisit therapy goals and reflect on your progress with your therapist when possible. My therapist and I would often discuss this when I was having good weeks and didn’t have much to bring to the table on that day.
Like many other relationships, it takes time to grow and feedback is critical to improve that relationship. If you want to learn more about others’ therapeutic relationships and maybe even compare it to yours to see what’s “normal” I suggest reading, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottileb. It’s written by a therapist who shares her personal experience of going to therapy as well as four stories of clients that she is currently working with. It was interesting to see how different people approach and use their therapy sessions and it may sound weird, but the book humanized my therapist.
It was only after finishing this book that I realized that my therapist doesn’t have all the answers, and sometimes I may not agree with her and that’s okay. I realized that it’s normal to disagree with your therapist at times, because they’re human after all! Seeing how other real humans approached therapy and learning of their therapeutic relationship really allowed me to open up more.
The author of this blog, Colleen Leung, is the co-founder of Unmute, a free service that helps connect people seeking therapy to therapists quickly and easily.