Whilst working towards my Doctorate in Counselling Psychologist, part of my on-going professional development, and indeed my training, is to attend therapy myself. Why, you may ask? It is really important for me to know what it feels like to be on the other end of the seat in the therapy room!
My experience is probably a little less stressful than the average client- after all, I know what is about to happen; but that doesn’t mean it is any less nerve-wracking! Knowing that you are going to bare your soul to a stranger is a very interesting experience- it taps into our primordial experiences of trying to protect ourselves. Opening up to someone puts us in a delicate position- someone else knows our inner most secrets, and, for that to happen, we have to truly trust that person!
This is why therapy often takes a long time- it would be lovely to give a client a timescale. “I promise that within 12 weeks you will be all healed and never need therapy again!” If I could do this, I am sure I would be so busy; I wouldn’t have time for myself!
The thing is, it takes time to get to know and trust your Therapist- we’re meeting someone new for the first time, and we know nothing about him or her. That puts them in the balance of power, and it can be an uncomfortable experience to start with. Just like making new friends, it takes time to get to know people, but when we do, we can then work together in the therapeutic relationship, for a great outcome. Petruska Clarkson defines this experience as the ‘Working Alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003), and it is fundamental to a good therapeutic relationship.
Just as in life, we cannot like everyone we meet, so this is true in therapy- you just might not ‘click’ with your Therapist! This is OK! It does not mean that therapy will not work for you; it just means that you may need to find someone else that you can work with. Any good Therapist will be able to recommend another Therapist for you- so please, do not feel like you cannot ask for a referral; a good Therapist will gladly help you.
Likewise, if during the first session, the assessment, the Therapist does not feel that they are the right Therapist for you, you may be referred to a colleague. This does not mean that the Therapist isn’t competent, just that they recognise that a colleague of theirs has more experience in the area you are seeking help in, and that the Therapist is actually looking out for your welfare!
So, your first session has gone well and you think you can work with your Therapist- but it is still uncomfortable to talk to them. Why is that? Well, that’s perfectly normal! It can take weeks to develop the relationship enough to trust your Therapist and let them in. This is normal and it takes time. In long term psychotherapy, this can take months, however, from the moment you first meet your Therapist, they will be working hard to develop your working relationship together (Safran, Muran and Proskurov, 2009).
The thing is, a skilled Therapist is working hard from the beginning- the work starts the moment the assessment ends, and real changes can be made in the early weeks of therapy, regardless of the working alliance you and your Therapist have created. So, as you can see, its not all cut and dried- each therapeutic experience is different, and what I would say, is that if there is something in life that is getting you down, or getting to be too much; give therapy a go. You never know, it might help you to make the changes you never thought were possible; after all, why do you think Therapist’s go into the profession? It’s usually because we have experienced Therapy, and found it helpful!
Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.
Safran, J.D., Muran, J.C. and Proskurov, B. (2009) ‘Alliance, negotiation, and rupture resolution’, in Ablon, R.L.a.S.J. Handbook of Evidence Based Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, New York: Humana Press.