“Am I with the Right Counselor?”
Having gone myself to eight different therapists, I wish I had had some of the advice back then I can offer now.
Unfortunately, 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 yourself.
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 practice new skills and 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)?
Sometimes, if you have been in individual therapy a while you will 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 about the present and the past and will help you see the connection.
If you don’t talk about this you will remain stuck.
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.
Your therapist should be able to hear this without defensiveness and make adjustments or explain their methods and rationale for their approach.
Common Problems for Each of the Love Styles in Therapy
Avoiders: Want to avoid discussing their past saying, “It was fine.”
They may be annoyed when asked to identify feelings.
When asked to explore emotions or try something uncomfortable, avoiders do better if given logical explanations as to the goals and methods for making progress and are reminded of the big picture routinely.
Avoiders hate feeling inadequate (which they will feel a lot in therapy) and need reminders of what they missed as kids and how that is related to their current struggles.
Pleasers: Try to be the best client ever and have difficulty disagreeing with the therapist or not complying.
Pleasers need to work on boundaries and speaking their mind, even with their therapist.
As with everyone, pleasers want to make their therapist happy.
Vacillators: Vacillators tend to idealize a therapist at first believing they are the answer to their problems.
Over time, disappointments tend to make the therapist “all bad” and the vacillator may quit therapy in a huff.
Vacillators feel deeply rejected when confronted by the therapist about their part in relational struggles.
When confronted, vacillators quickly feel “all bad” a miserable feeling that makes them feel flawed and unwanted.
They get rid of this feeling by making others “all bad” and feel angry that others make them feel so bad.
Accepting feedback and sticking with the process is important for the vacillator.
Controllers: Controllers often challenge the therapist authority feeling threatened by giving anyone else any kind of power.
They may intimidate and test the therapist boundaries.
I connect with controllers by helping them understand how the painful childhood experiences are at the root of the current anger they feel.
Getting to the grief will be the most important challenge for the controller.
Victims: Victim as so use to living without hope they don’t often expect much from therapy.
They need lots of encouragement that small changes can make a big difference. Of course, safety is the first concern.
Love and blessings,
Milan and Kay