By Guest Contributor Matthew Jones, MA, LCPC, CADC
Therapy is often misunderstood. While most people know what it looks like to go to a physician’s office when they’re sick, many individuals have no idea what the process of therapy looks like. Lacking clear expectations for therapy makes initial sessions challenging and anxiety-provoking for first-time clients—especially with such poor and unethical examples of therapy in the media.
Therapy does not mean that you lie on a couch and talk about your mother. While that’s certainly an option, it’s not something clients do in typical psychotherapy. More likely, therapy is an engaging conversation with an expert within a warm, safe, supportive, and confidential environment. Therapists are legally and ethically responsible to keep everything that you say private, with a few exceptions. In the digital age, it’s one of the only places on this planet that you can have an expert’s undivided attention and empathy, say whatever you want, and not have it posted on social media.
Therapy may feel strange at first because you, as the client, often speak more than your therapist. This is normal and an important component of therapy. Unlike friendships, where you know a lot about your friend, a therapist may not share everything about themselves with you. Again, that is part of the process. Another important part of therapy is your ability as the client to impact the course of treatment.
All clients deserve to have productive therapy sessions. To help streamline that process, follow the list below that contains 10 things all clients should share with their therapists to get more out of therapy.
1. Your fears about therapy not working.
A great place to start is sharing your fears about therapy not working. Honesty from the beginning will help you build a relationship full of trust. And it is this relationship itself that will end up being the most powerful agent of change.
2. The meaning and significance of your cultural identities.
Whether it’s a racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual, or spiritual identity you hold, please share it with your therapist. While not all therapists are excellent at asking you about how these identities impact your life, the more that you share, the more opportunities the therapist has to learn significant aspects about your experience.
3. You don’t think therapy is going well.
If things aren’t going well—don’t just stop going—say something! Give your therapist feedback so that they can find a way to be more helpful to you, or, if they are unable to help, refer you to someone who can.
4. You’re thinking about quitting therapy.
Again, this is an important conversation to have with your therapist. Regardless of why you want to quit therapy, take the time to discuss this with your therapist over a few sessions so that you can end on a positive note.
5. If you have something important in your past that the therapist doesn’t know.
When you notice that something important in your past is impacting your current level of functioning, share that with your therapist—especially if it’s something you haven’t shared before.
6. You feel uncomfortable (and what they can do to help).
Commenting on the way that you feel when you sit with your therapist is important to both parties. Try to ask the therapist to meet your needs rather than expecting them to read your mind.
7. If they said something that hurt your feelings.
Your therapist is a person, just as flawed and beautiful and complex as you are. When your therapist says something offensive or off-the-mark, give them that feedback. Take chances in therapy that you might not with other people in your life—the results may be surprising and healing.
8. If you want to know your diagnosis, ask.
As a client, you have a right to all of your healthcare information. You have a right to know your diagnosis or any other documentation that the therapist keeps—just ask!
9. If you used drugs or alcohol prior to the session.
It’s important to be transparent with your therapist, especially about drugs and alcohol. Some therapists may not want you to come in if you’ve consumed mind-altering substances. Regardless, it’s a better experience for both the therapist and the client to be up-front about alcohol and drugs.
10. What parts of therapy have been helpful to your growth.
Positive feedback is always welcome! When a therapist understands what is working well for you, they may be able to bring more of that into your sessions.
Client progress is a therapist’s top priority. Make sure that you embrace vulnerability and share important aspects of yourself and your experiences with your therapist so the two of you can have productive and fulfilling sessions. The better you communicate, the more effective therapy can become!
Matthew Jones is a life coach, licensed therapist, addiction specialist, and is earning his doctorate in clinical psychology. With writings published in Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and more, Matt is passionate about using his expertise to help individuals reach their full potential. You can find more of his writing by reading his column in Inc. Magazine and by visiting his website.