What do you expect out of your therapist?

therapistA friend recently told me about someone who was frustrated with their therapist because they didn’t feel supported. They weren’t being their “friend,” as she put it. This raises an important distinction I’ve heard so many times. Do you think your therapist is a “friend” or an “authoritative figure?” What are your expectations of your therapists?

Let’s first talk about this idea that the therapist is your “friend.” What is a friend? A friend is someone who supports you and talks with you, but a friend can also be someone who you can be honest with and they can be honest with you. The latter is the part that people often forget about when they define a therapist as a “friend.” Hard truths are part of honesty.

Then there is the idea that the therapist is an “authoritarian” on the problem you are experiencing – that they understand the problem better than you understand the problem. As a therapist, we know that no one “gets” the problem more than you do. You’ve lived it. Sometimes people get thrown into the thick of life and then we need someone on the other side to pull us through. Therapists may be able to offer a different perspective, perhaps offer new eyes, and see things from a bird’s eye view.

Some even think of therapists as some omniscient being who has life “figured out.” However, they are no more immune to making mistakes or from having life knock us down. A therapist CAN offer tools, knowledge, and experience. The therapist can be a guide who supports you in what you bring to the table. They may have more tools in their toolbox, but their need for the toolbox is no different than yours. And ideally, as therapy progresses, the therapist becomes invisible, as you begin to internalize and consolidate all that you’ve learned so that you can now put these tools to use on your own.

When people come in for therapy, it’s often because there is a gap between where they are and where they want to be. Our job is to help bridge that gap by supporting you, providing you with tools, asking you questions that you, perhaps, haven’t thought of, and at times, challenging your thoughts. It’s not about challenging to criticize, but it’s about challenging to get you thinking about the problem from a new perspective. Because part of the problem is that you’re in the middle of jungle and see things through the trees and bushes. The therapist’s job is to figure out what jungle you’re in and then give you a compass and map to survive in the midst of the jungle and teach you how to use those tools to move you out. Having that perspective, they can begin to show you some steps that might be useful to take.

So your therapist is not necessarily a “friend” or an “authority,” but they can be a guide. You may not agree with everything they say, but I want you to ask yourself if that’s because what they say doesn’t work for you or if it’s because they’re simply challenging you. As Bishop T.D. Jakes says,

Sometimes you’re so busy defending yourself that you’re not developing yourself.”

So are you defending yourself or developing yourself? Maybe your therapist doesn’t understand your concerns the way you understand it. Maybe it needs to be explained more. Maybe your therapist is asking you to look in places inside of you that you haven’t looked before. Just as adolescents go through growth spurts and experience growing pains, so do adults, but it’s not always physical – it’s emotional.

What kind of relationship do you have with your therapist? Have you found yourself developing?

Related links:

Rubin Khoddam, Clinical Psychology PhD student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Blogs by Rubin, Therapy

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