Soooo….what are people supposed to talk about in therapy? The past? My mother? The events of my week? My grocery list? My deepest, darkest fears? Should I talk about my work stress or about my dreams or nightmares? Should I just talk about my feelings? How much information do I need to give for what I say to make sense? Is my therapist expecting something in particular?
Many clients, especially at the beginning of therapy, feel uncertain and anxious about which details of their life are worth sharing and what is not (mixed with fears that the therapist will judge as they expect others in their lives to do). Some clients may feel like they have to come up with interesting insights each session, or that they have to come prepared with discussion topics. Some may come to therapy with a more “wait and see” approach, but then start to doubt whether they’re accomplishing anything when there’s moments in which there is “nothing to talk about.”
Overall, there is no specific “one size fits all” approach, because each person is unique. The most important point is to be open with your therapist about your concerns and questions… even if it is “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!”... you might just get some welcome feedback. I’ve put together some things to consider when coming to therapy that can help lessen some anxiety you might have:
1. Everything is relevant.
Everything you talk about sheds more light on what it’s like to be you, and how you make sense of your world. It’s very helpful for your therapist to know what it is like to be you as he or she works to get to know you, and to understand better what your strengths, values, goals, and those things that keep you stuck. Note: If you find yourself running through mundane details of your week or hitting awkward silences, it may be a cue that there's a deeper issue you're avoiding. Ask yourself what it is you're not talking about and contemplate the fear of saying it. Push yourself beyond “it is what it is” or “whatever” and tackle some deeper questions.
2. If it feels important, it is.
Sometimes you may just not understand why something feels important, but you’ve had a reaction to it. It’s okay to bring that up. You don’t need to know everything about a topic in order to start talking about it. Your primary task in therapy is just to be you at your most natural and genuine; your therapist is there to help you make sense of the themes running through your life and story and to help you identify if it has led you off the path you’re hoping to go in your life.
3. Pay attention to your gut.
We’re taught in life to suppress, minimize, and avoid our feelings, but if you notice that you have a strong feeling connected to something, that’s a good sign that it is important to you on some level. Rather than avoid the experience, bring it up and out. Chances are that the areas of your life that lead to strong emotional reactions will be the areas where therapy can help the most.
4. Some questions to ask yourself during the week between sessions.
“What bothered me this week more than it usually does?” “When was I surprised by my reaction?” The things that trigger us often give us an insight into old wounds in our life that have not been resolved. They also may give you insight into ways you’ve adapted your life to avoid those experiences.
“What things did I say to myself when I was upset?” By letting your therapist in on your harsh self-critic mind, you can begin the work toward understanding your self-concept and the ways in which you may have learned to to beat yourself up in your mind.
“How do I actually feel in session?” “ What do I experience when I talk about certain things?” When do I feel disappointed in session? A confident therapist will be open to discussing these things with you, and will help you explore the ways in which therapy does or doesn’t meet expectations for you (this goes back to your uniqueness and unique experience). This can be especially helpful if you’re feeling that something you need is not being addressed.
Therapy is an investment toward the life you want to live. You can get the most return on your investment by making an effort to be yourself (warts ‘n all)... this vulnerability brings you closer to your authentic self.
For help In the Lancaster, PA area moving toward the life you want to live, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / firstname.lastname@example.org and schedule an appointment.