So, Where Should We Begin?

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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 / and schedule an appointment.

The Power of Vulnerability


One thing that has come up consistently this week with clients has been the concept of “Vulnerability.” To be honest, it comes up regularly. Vulnerability is a raw, authentic representation of ourselves and a willingness to expose our true selves and invite others in. Vulnerability is sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. When thinking about vulnerability, it’s important to understand the relationships between vulnerability, shame, and connectedness.

Connection is why we are here, ultimately why we exist, and what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Most often, the things that lead us to withdrawal from connection with others is shame. The belief that, if I am vulnerable and open with others, they will discover those things about me that make me ‘unworthy’ of connection. “If I’m really known, I will be rejected.” So when considering our experience with shame, vulnerability is often a risk of standing up to that fear and exposing ourselves to the possibility of unknown responses from others..Shame (and the fear of shame) leads to the urge to disconnect from others. We all have shame (except true sociopaths), so therefore, we all have the natural tendency to avoid vulnerability. It’s a self-protective mechanism for us.

The conundrum we find ourselves in is that even though we try to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable, there is a desire to have the type of relationships that assist and help us move toward vulnerability. No doubt, vulnerability feels risky and threatening; however, there comes a point when our efforts to protect ourselves can become destructive and cause us to miss the opportunity for a profound relational experience. In relationships, there is a need for boundaries and trust when vulnerability is wanted. These boundaries are important to help us manage the fear associated with taking this step. Judgment is needed to determine who the right people are, and then you can move towards more vulnerable interactions.

Helpful ways to work towards vulnerability in your relationships would include:

  1. Taking a moment to consider the efforts you make to protect yourself in relationships. Is the aim to create healthy connections or to remain unknown from those around you? If your answer is to remain unknown, then shame is likely getting in the way of meaningful connection.

  2. Identify the fear. Those that have worked with me in therapy will be well drilled in considering the underlying fear in their actions. Ask yourself, “what response do I fear from others after being vulnerable with them?”

  3. Accept that your fear is natural. Allow it to exist rather than focus on making it go away. Focus on the fear only gives it energy to grow.

  4. Focus attention on the value you have in connection, and then chose vulnerability rather than allowing fear to determine your actions. When we behave opposite of how we feel, and in this case seek others out, we discover a new sense of freedom and a way out of our shame.

  5. Establish trust and start slow. Try openness with smaller things and then after building trust with others, move on to larger things. For example, when you are asked “How are you?” try avoiding the automatic response of “good” and honestly contemplate the question before responding.

Entering into the anxiety and fear-provoking area of vulnerability, shame, and connection can be overwhelming. Consider talking to someone that can provide you a safe space to process your relationship to shame.

For help In the Lancaster, PA area moving toward more vulnerability and a more connected life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment.