What You May Want to Know About Therapy but Are Afraid to Ask
A Q&A with Nicki Ditch, licensed mental health counselor
Q: What goes through a therapist’s mind at the end of the session?
A: We consider how brave our clients are. We might take a moment to clear our mind so that we can be fully present for the next client and we may even need a moment to cry. We may find ourselves feeling a bit frustrated and need to work to remind ourselves that our clients will do the healthier thing when they have more insight and are fully ready to make the change. We work to determine how we could have handled things better or reassure ourselves that we did a good enough job that day. After all, therapists are human too.
Q: What should I do when I disagree with my therapist but I’m hesitant to say something?
A: Therapy is a microcosm of the real world. If we are in therapy long enough, we will eventually behave in therapy as we do outside of therapy. If you are asking this question, my guess is that you struggle to express your disagreements in your life and it’s important to work to understand why and how to overcome that. Try telling your therapist, “I struggle to speak up when I disagree with you.”
Q: How do therapists stay neutral during sessions?
A: We are often not “neutral.” We are human and we have our own reactions and there are times when asserting a “side” makes sense, but we remind ourselves that unless someone’s safety is at risk, it’s best to help the client come to their own realizations.
Q: How do you help someone through something you’ve never experienced?
A: Empathy (the ability and willingness to work to feel WITH another person) cultivates healing even more than having had a similar experience. I work to understand the experiences as fully as possible by asking curious questions. I search my own memories of times when I’ve felt similarly to connect with the clients in the most genuine way possible. Once I feel the memory in my body, I check my experience with the client. If I am not yet on the mark, I ask them to say more about their experience until I get it right.
Understanding cultivates empathy and empathy cultivates connection. Healing takes place in that sacred space of feeling deeply understood and connected.
Q: Can having had the same experiences be detrimental to the client’s therapy?
A: The risk of the therapist being triggered and overwhelmed by sessions does exist. Therapists need not be fully healed from their own hurts, but they must be working through them in their own therapy and supervision, especially if it is affecting their ability to be therapeutic. It can become detrimental to the client’s therapy if a therapist takes something personally or assumes he knows how the client feels based on his own experiences rather than working to understand the client’s experience.
Q: Do you ever cry in sessions?
A: Yes, usually when I feel attuned to the client’s profound hurt or when a client has had a “breakthrough.”