Ever wonder what your therapist is really thinking while they are nodding their heads, asking questions, and listening intently? For some reason whenever I tell people that I'm a therapist, they have questions. Lots of questions. Hey-therapy is interesting!
So I went ahead and asked around my social circle to gain insight into the questions that people have about therapy, and more specifically, to clarify what really goes on inside the mind of a therapist.
Here are the questions and my answers:
1) Are you silently judging people in your head?
-I think this is definitely the question I get the most from family and friends. The truth is.....not exactly. Do I think that people sometimes make stupid decisions? Absolutely. Do I think that people need to change? Of course, that's why I'm a therapist. But am I actually judging others on what they are saying in session? 99% of the time, no. I work hard on marketing myself to attract people that I enjoy working with, and I also get a lot of my clients as referrals from other people I have already seen and worked well with. So most of the time I enjoy my clients, like them, and root for them. With this said, judgment isn't really a part of the picture. Having a good therapist-client relationship requires a lot of trust and empathy, so I am always genuinely interested in what people are bringing to me in session and I am always searching for the right questions that will lead them to have more insight and clarity. Also, who am I to judge? That's not what I'm there for.
2) Do you ever have an agenda/push people towards a solution?
-No. I don't ever have an agenda at the beginning of therapy. Every person, couple or family comes to me with their own concerns, and we work together in the first few sessions to turn those concerns into goals for therapy. It's my job as the therapist to make sure that we are always working towards goals in some way or another to keep therapy on track and to make sure we are working towards some sort of end goal. If a couple comes in and wants to work on their marriage, then that is the main goal. If a couple wants to work on ending their relationships and work on moving on, then that is the goal. We always explore options and I may challenge or play devils-advocate, but that is just to ensure that people have explored all of their feelings and options.
3) What if you need to give someone advice that goes against your personal beliefs or morals, would you still do it?
-Giving advice isn't really my role as a therapist. I am working as a guide and asking questions that will hopefully lead people to have more insight into their issues and concerns, but I don't think I would ever give what some would call "advice". I am not going to tell anyone to do anything, I am more around for the "explore and challenge" piece than the actual "decision-making piece"- that is up to the client.
4) What made you wanna be in therapy?
-I get this one a lot, or re-worded, "Are you messed up, is that why you chose therapy?". I really never know how to answer this one. I think there's some part of me that always wanted to be a therapist because I knew it involved talking with people all day. Basically, I think that is the biggest thing. I kind of fell into therapy because I loved psychology and I knew I wanted to work with clients and not do research. Plus , I couldn't really see myself doing anything else. Therapy is hard work and can be super draining, but it is also so satisfying- most of the time.
5) What’s the most common relationship issue you’ve seen?
-I am always shocked by how little couples actually talk to one another. So of course, the answer is communication issues. More specifically, most of the people I see avoid their partners due to assumptions and fears. For example, they have several concerns such as lack of intimacy or feelings of being disrespected or unloved but they don't talk to their partner because they assume their partner will react poorly, or they fear that their partner will not be supportive and instead name-call or turn the blame on them. This of course leads to frustration, resentment and bitterness, and the partner has no idea what they're doing wrong.
6) Would you ever "fire" a client that continues to not make any progress, or show interest in enacting change after a considerable amount of time, even though they're insistent on continuing to pay for sessions on a regular basis?
-Yes! You would be surprised how often this happens. A client has to be making progress in order for us to ethically continue seeing them (as per the Board of Marriage and Family Therapy). Usually, this can be solved in a conversation. Most of the time, clients are expecting this because they know they haven't been putting in any work outside of sessions. Sometimes, they just aren't ready for therapy. Other times, bringing up their lack of progress is the real start to initiate change, and these clients just need to be pushed a little harder. Sometimes it's just not a good fit, and the client will be given a list of recommendations if they wish to continue therapy.
7) How do you restrain yourself from being judgmental towards clients who allow seemingly negligible issues to greatly impact their lives, in comparison to those who have suffered trauma/traumatic events that would typically warrant seeking therapy?
-Interesting question! I think the problem in this type of thinking is that we are assuming that one sort of person has "bigger problems" than another. Although some people might be in more of a critical state than others, that doesn't mean that their issues aren't as "big". Everything is subjective depending on the person's experience. I actually really appreciate the differing issues that I encounter each day. One client can come in grieving a death of a loved one, and my next client is struggling with their job satisfaction. I don't find either more important, and usually I enjoy switching up the pace from one person to another.
8) How do you handle when family/friends/loved ones come to you for mental health advice? Or do you?
-I think this is a hard one. Being a therapist changes you- your outlook, your relationships, everything. They warn you of this when you are in graduate school. I think most therapists have always had people gravitate towards them for help and support, and that's one of the reasons why they became therapists in the first place. So I think a lot of what happens is we end up "therapizing" in our social/home lives as well as in the office, which can be both good and bad.
9) Have you ever had to cease seeing a client due to conflict of interest?
-I haven't had this happen, but as therapists we aren't allowed to have multiple relationships with clients. That means we can't see family members, friends, or anyone in your social network really. Basically if you know someone beforehand as anything other than a client, you cannot see that person for therapy.
10) Do you carry the stuff you hear home at night?
-Sometimes, and that might be the hardest part of the job. When I was first starting out as a therapist, this was definitely something I had to work on through lots and lots of supervision. Once you're more experienced, you find ways to decompress or separate your life and work. One thing that helps is allowing yourself to process and think on your commute home, and then once you're home, you're home. It's a different world and you must focus on your spouse, dinner, chores, pets, etc.
11) What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever heard that you could tell me without breaking confidentiality?
-I also get this question a lot! I really truly don't know of too many things I would actually consider "crazy", but I have had a few people who are great story-tellers and like to talk a lot about their past with drugs, sex, alcohol, and parties. These are entertaining, but not so much "crazy". Everyone wonders if they can talk about sex. Absolutely! It doesn't matter how "crazy" you think you're sex life is, I've heard it all. And plus, it's one of the most fun things to talk about in therapy.
12) Have you ever just not liked someone and had trouble working with them?
-Yes. This does not happen very often, though. Usually when clients come to see me for initial consultations, you can tell pretty quickly if we're going to be a good fit or not. If not, I usually don't see these people again. I've only had a few last longer that I didn't think would return, and I've ended up enjoying and liking all of these clients after a few more sessions. I think usually this isn't a matter or "like", it's usually intimidation or it might take people a little longer to open up which can seem painful in the beginning.
13) Do you ever get sick of calling people out on their shit?
-Haha! I don't think I "call people out on their shit" too often. This is kind of similar to therapists "giving advice". Generally when people come to session, they share their issues and concerns and most of the time they are already aware that they made a bad decision; I don't have to tell them that. However, once I've been working with people for a long time I do feel more comfortable "calling out" certain things they might do that I know don't line up with their values/morals, etc.
14) What’s your sign?<