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  • Tara Ferguson, PhD

A Therapist's Perspective

My experience at every party ever:

Them: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a psychologist.”

Them: “Oh god, you’re not analyzing me, are you?”

I think it’s time us therapists set the record straight: We are not analyzing you. EVER. Not in the way that you think we are anyways! Well, what in the world are we thinking? I was hoping to shed some light on this in this blog post.

Let me start by setting the scene: Most therapists I know got into our field for one reason – growing up, things around them in the world seemed stressful. People they loved were struggling. Strangers on the news were suffering. We didn’t have much power then but as we interacted with the world, we discovered one truth – we may not be able to change the world in one big swoop, but we had the power to listen, pay attention, put our brains with another’s in problem solving and through doing so, we could HELP. Seeing a smile, seeing the gratitude in another person’s eyes, and best of all, seeing them succeed in their goals and go on to make the world a little bit better with their unique gifts and talents – THAT was powerful. And that’s how we, as therapists, can make a difference.

This is the angle we are likely to be coming from when we interact with another human being, whether they be our clients, our friends, or a new acquaintance we meet at a party. We seek to understand the other and to see their strengths. We seek to share your perspective in order to see life through your eyes. Then we HOPE we will be struck with a brilliant insight or idea that can help you. And if not, we want to sit with you through the struggle of finding that insight on your own. Sometimes that’s all we can do, but trust me, that’s powerful too. People don’t like to go to dark places alone.

So here at Place of Peace, we took a poll of all of our therapists to find out – what are the most common myths amongst clients about what THEY think WE are thinking? And what IS actually on our minds?

Let’s get inside the beautiful minds of our talented therapists!

1. Client keeps a secret from therapist because they are afraid to be judged.

First of all, you’re allowed to keep things to yourself. AND, at the same time, I’ll probably be better able to do my job if you share. I’ll be honored when you tell me so that I can help you with it. Most secrets aren’t so bad once you say them out loud.

You are entitled to have your own privacy and to never tell me things or take time in telling me things. Sometimes those things that we are afraid of sharing can be helpful in here so I know how to better help you. So, if you feel like you can, can you help me help you? I’m likely to not be too shocked anyways.

You never have to tell me anything that you don’t want to! But at the same time, I want you to feel comfortable knowing that it’s part of my job to take the big things in your life that maybe you don’t really want to talk about or tell anyone else and help you better understand them. I promise I probably won’t be too surprised, and there is no judgment in this space!

Let me tell you a little something about some really stupid things I’ve done…’ll see that you are in good company!

As one of my favorite supervisors used to say all the time, “welcome to the human race.” I think what he meant by that is we are all human and we all suffer from the same burdens that cause us to make mistakes and be imperfect, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Client says: “You’re probably so sick of me talking about the same thing over and over.”

I’d be SHOCKED if we talked about something once and had it all figured out! Each time we discuss a topic, we tend to be able to learn something new by seeing it from a different angle. Having consistent themes in our work is usually a good sign! If each week there is something completely new, we could be missing the big picture and getting distracted by the flavor of the week.

I find that we often talk about things we find important frequently. Since we know this is important to you, maybe we can keep learning about what makes it important to you and through it, learn about you in a greater sense. Who knows - it may even let us know about important themes in your life.

I want you to feel comfortable continuing to bring up the topics that are really important to you. Not everything is a “quick fix”, and I want to make sure that you feel like this is your safe space to talk about whatever you want to every week, even if it is the same thing each time.

Actually, this is making my job really easy because I never have to change my treatment plan :) No seriously though, we all get stuck sometimes. I’m here with you. We’ll get through it! Or we’ll die trying. But I won’t give up on you.

3. Client shamefully admits they forgot to do their homework.

Hey it happens! Homework is for YOU, not me. We will get really curious about what got in the way (ex. avoidance, forgetfulness, extra busy week, goal was unrealistic, goal was not specific enough), and adjust accordingly.

That’s completely fine! I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve forgotten to do tasks that I was supposed to. Why don’t we touch on some of the topics from the homework together in our session today?

We are human! Let’s explore what got in the way of the homework so we can help you more.

Well, I know what we’ll be doing in session today then! Thanks for making my job easier today, LOL.

4. Client says something to the effect of: “You’re going to get so mad at me but I contacted my ex again and we went out to dinner.”

You must be feeling really empty inside to resort to something that violates your goals and values. Let’s work together on learning to tolerate that empty feeling that we all feel sometimes.

How do you feel about what happened? Why don’t we explore what led up to that decision and how that aligns with what you are working on?

Of course I want the best for you but I really don’t have any investment in what we talk about or how fast you get “better.” I get paid the same every time anyways! Just be you. I like it that way.

How was that experience for you? What were you thinking about before you reached out to him/her? Let’s look at some more boundary-aligning ways to deal with these thoughts/feelings other than reaching out to him/her next time.

5. Client falls backward in progress after a period of steady growth and feels ashamed to report this to their therapist.

Thank god. You’re changing like a normal person does – 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. Also, it may help to know that slow changes are best for sticking.

Having a setback DOES NOT mean we are starting from scratch and all your progress is lost! Your progress still exists, it didn’t disappear, nothing can take that away from you. Each time you have a relapse of symptoms, it is an opportunity to strengthen your skill set and get practice applying your skills to a broader range of situations.

Change is a process. I like to think of it as learning to climb a mountain or ride a bike. We may fall, but we may not fall back down to the base of the mountain, or you may pedal further before you tip over. Either way it’s a step in the right direction that gives you valuable knowledge for next time.

This is a completely normal part of life! You’ll hear me say this so many times throughout the course of us working together, but change is not linear. There may be seasons of steady growth, but there will also be plenty with many ups and downs. The best thing we can do together is learn how to get to a solid place internally so that regardless of which season you are in, you can respond in the healthiest way possible!

6. Client is not getting better but is afraid to tell the therapist.

Please tell me! If something we are trying isn’t working, we should switch interventions. Different things work for different people. You’ll never know there are other options if I think what we are doing is helping. There are lots of tools to choose from!

I tend to believe that therapists have expertise in theory and research-based techniques, but YOU are the expert on what works and does not work for you. Real honest feedback is ESSENTIAL to the therapeutic process.

If what we are doing in therapy isn’t helping, that does not mean there is something wrong with YOU! It just means that what we are doing is not a good fit for you. You know how everyone has a brand of jeans or shoes or ketchup that they like best? Therapeutic interventions are a matter of fit and preference too! Don’t keep wearing shoes that don’t fit :) We might have to try a few “pairs” before we find the best one for you.

I want to know if something isn’t working for you! The therapeutic process is so different for everyone, and you are the expert of your own life and your own care. If something doesn’t feel right just let me know. There are lots of different things we can try, and your input is the best direction you can give me.

7. Client wants to make sure the therapist thinks well of them.

Look, you got up today and you TRIED at life, right? Then you’re pretty swell in my book!

A long time ago I learned that I am a better therapist when I learn to see the strengths and positive possibilities of ALL my clients. So, I already think you are pretty fantastic! Bonus: applying this in life to all people creates a peaceful heart as well :)

You are here today doing something great for yourself- that’s pretty amazing to me!

We all judge - that’s a natural thing for a human brain to do. I’m working on catching myself and replacing those judgmental thoughts with kinder ones :) But that’s 100% my problem if I catch myself judging and is NOT a reflection of you.

Regardless of what you do, your heart is pure and I see that :)

8. Client is ashamed of their problem.

Welcome! ….to the club, where we all struggle and hide it from the world. Nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t help it that you are human.

In therapy, I like to tell clients about shameful things I’ve done just to even the playing field. They love it!

Mr. Rogers said, “anything human is mentionable, anything mentionable is manageable.”

It is completely normal to feel ashamed of a problem. I’ve felt the same way, and I’m your therapist! The good news is that with the right tools and mindset, we will get you moving in the right direction.

One of the best ways to beat shame is to speak it out loud. Then it can’t bully you anymore!

9. Client is afraid they are too broken for change.

Call me stubborn, but I just don’t believe in that as a possibility for anyone.

You aren’t broken. ….Nope, stop it……you aren’t broken!

If there is anything we can count on in life, it's change! Change is the only constant. Showing up to therapy and setting intentions for change, creates some change in itself. The first step is giving yourself permission to believe it is possible.

Something tells me you wouldn’t have started therapy if you thought you were too broken for change! All it takes is one small step in the right direction to start moving forward.

If you are broken, so am I.

10. Client finds their therapist irritating at times.

I don’t blame you! I can be so annoying. Just give me “the look” and I’ll try to stop.

Even I irritate myself sometimes so you are not alone in that! LOL. No, but seriously, if at any point, I do or say anything that frustrates you or makes you feel uncomfortable, please let me know. I’m here to help you, and I can’t do that to the best of my ability without your feedback.

If you want to switch to a new therapist, I will NOT be offended. I care more about you getting what you need than I do about my own ego getting what it “needs.” Let me know – I’ll help you get find what you need!

We are all so annoying…..and yet so darn lovable too :)

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