Am I with the right counselor?
Having gone myself to a number of different therapists, I wish I had had some of the advice back then that I can offer now. Unfortunately, the bell shaped curve applies. There are some very bad therapists mixed in with some fair therapists and then there are some very good counselors. Here are some questions to ask.
Do I find myself feeling safe to explore yet, at the same time, challenged to grow?
A safe environment and a good connection with your therapist are both crucial to a good outcome in therapy. Safety to explore your deep feelings, secrets, and dark places is important. Safety should not mean you are coddled and never challenged to face your shortcomings and grow. If your therapist never confronts you in a loving way or points out areas that need growth that is a problem.
Do I feel a sense of competence from my therapist? Does it feel like they know what they are doing?
Notice I did not say: “Does your counselor solve all your problems for you?” Your therapist is a guide and your appointment time is a place to gain insight, practice new skills and in some cases experience some of what you missed growing up. For the most part, you should feel your counselor is capable of helping you make progress. From time to time, ask your therapist to review your progress and remind you of the big picture of where you are headed in your work together.
Did you think your counselor was great and now you feel annoyed or dissatisfied in the same way you felt annoyed or dissatisfied with one of your parents? (For example, your therapist feels just like your dad…uncaring, too busy, inattentive, distracted, etc)?
If you have been in individual therapy a while you may experience something with your counselor called transference. This means the old feelings you had with your parents are now arising with your therapist. What annoys you? What disappoints you? Is it the same thing that annoyed you with your parents? If so, now is the time to talk about it. It can be very healing to get these feeling and reactions into the open and talk about them. Most likely you could not do that as a kid. Hopefully your therapist will understand your feelings of dissatisfaction are more about the past than the present and will help you see the connection. If you don’t talk about this you will remain stuck. Transference is less common in couples’ therapy as transference is happening within the couple relationship. That’s what triggers are all about.
What if something is bothering me about therapy itself?
A woman approached me recently complaining about a therapist I had referred her to. She told me her complaint: “The counselor and I talked about some important childhood events in my life when my husband couldn’t attend and the therapist did not even bring up the content of our session the next week when my husband was at the session. I want a new referral she said. I asked her if she raised her concerns in the session telling the therapist she wanted to review the previous session with her husband present.
The woman told me, “I don’t think I should have to tell her.” (The therapist should just know.) I encouraged her, “Not only is it appropriate, it is essential that you can talk about something you do not like or do not think is going well in your therapy. Ruptures between the client and therapist occur in therapy just like they do in any relationship. Your therapist isn’t a mind reader. Tell them when you are hurt, dissatisfied, angry or upset. Your therapist should be able to hear this without defensiveness and make adjustments or explain their methods and rationale for their approach.