I can see it in almost all of my new clients-the wall. You feel tense, nervous, reserved, and a tad buttoned up. You have gone through the anxiety provoking process of finding a therapist, scheduling an initial appointment, finding the office, and now you’re sitting in the waiting room scared about what’s about to happen and debating whether to just walk out and leave. As you’re having this internal dialogue, the therapist walks up and takes you back to a nicely decorated and cozy room.
At this point you start to feel a bit more comfortable now that you’ve seen the office and are engaging in some small talk, but before you know it here come those hard questions. A stranger is asking you about your problems, what’s holding you back, your innermost thoughts, and some painful emotions. You better keep that wall there for a little while until you know it’s completely safe lower it a little.
As a therapist, I encourage my clients to be completely honest with me about what’s going on in their lives so that I can help them in the best way possible. After all, I can’t read my clients’ minds as much as I wish I could. I’m relying on them to put it out there, and putting it out there is really freakin’ scary. I get that.
As the first session continues, I can see clients censoring themselves. They find very nice ways to word things, careful about what to say for each answer and particular about how they address issues (especially in couples therapy). As the session continues and we’ve both worked to make things a little more comfortable, finally the question comes out of the client’s mouth – “Am I allowed to curse in here?”
This question stuck me as humorous the first few times people asked me this. “OF COURSE YOU CAN!” I say. I explain how this is your time to say whatever it is you need to say, however you need to say it. Instantly I can see clients relax their shoulders, start speaking in a more natural way, and those walls start to come down. A simple question from clients started to feel more and more meaningful the more times I heard it, and how effective it was in allowing people to get more real. It's typically a huge shift in the beginning from clients saying and acting how they think they’re supposed to ina professional therapist’s office to being authentically themselves. Trust me, your therapist isn’t judging you or wanting you to act any specific way; that gets in the way of the process. Your therapist wants you to be you.
Therapy is a very unique place, and the therapeutic relationship is even more special. Outside in the scary world of our everyday lives, there are so many rules to learn and faux pas to be aware of. We spend so much time trying to figure out what other people want us to be, want us to say, how to act, how to not offend anyone, how to make the other person happy, and how to make our relationships work. This can get flat out exhausting, in fact, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Yes, there are rules and boundaries in the therapeutic relationship, but your therapist wants you to say whatever comes to your mind, what you’re thinking, and even accepts feedback and will process that with you. You don’t have to worry about hurting your therapist’s feelings by saying that something isn’t working or you think another direction would be more productive. It’s also a place to receive feedback and share exactly what you think and feel in that moment, and explain your fears about making changes and moving in a new direction. Mind reading doesn’t need to happen in therapy, an open and transparent conversation is invited. What a relief this can be for clients who truly embrace what this can mean.
So I challenge you to a couple of things this week. 1) Be open with your therapist about what has kept you from being the most authentic person you can be in therapy or in the time you’ve worked together, 2) think about what it would be like to be less constricted by your own ideas about what it means to be in therapy, and 3) find one way to let the wall down in another relationship in your life and be confident in how you express yourself. (I’m not suggesting you go to work and drop 3 F bombs in the first 5 minutes of the day tomorrow, even if that’s how you’d like to express yourself!)
What would it be like to let go and be authentically you?
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. I specialize in couples therapy, infertility counseling, postpartum depression, and parenting. I’d love to talk to you and determine if we’re a good fit for therapy. I do allow cursing, anger, tears, and anything else you need to do for yourself to get it all out there. Call me for a free consultation at (832) 827-3288.