open wide—for your therapist

It’s been about one-year and ten months since I first started the blog. I think I really have opened up in the process of writing this journal. But have I opened up enough to my therapist, whom I’ve been seeing since February? It’s been pretty easy to open up to her, but I can always do better.

In psychcentral.com this week, Dr. Grohol writes out several strategies to help us ‘open up’ and be able to talk more freely in psychotherapy. Below are his tips:

1. Write it down. Jot it down on a piece of paper, or keep a “therapy journal” even of topics or areas of your life that you want to talk about, you just find it difficult. Bring it to session, open it up, and pick a topic for that session.

2. Let the therapist guide you They are not there to necessarily give you all the answers, but help you find your own way to those answers (often with specific skills and techniques they can teach to help you better understand your interconnected moods and thoughts).

3. Reset your expectations. Remember, you’re not there to entertain your therapist, or to tell stories to maintain their interest. You’re there to do real work, some of which is going to involve talking about the past week in your life, but not to such an extent or in so much detail it overshadows the reason you’re in therapy to begin with.

4. Prepare for each session. Sometimes people put off preparing for each therapy session. Either it becomes too unwieldy, or it becomes too much like real work. Well, psychotherapy is real work and is often hard. If you prepare for each session beforehand, you’re more likely to be ready to have a topic to talk about.

Not preparing for a therapy session or waiting until the last minute may inadvertently make it more difficult to talk. Imagine going to a conference or big meeting where are you the main speaker, and you only prepare your speech minutes beforehand. Naturally you’re going to be more flustered and less likely to speak well. Preparation is key. Not just for speeches or meetings, but for anything worthwhile in life.

5. Think of your therapist as the closest confidante you can ever share anything with. Therapists are your adult equivalent of someone you can share almost anything with (except for some things that are illegal, like murder, or suicide). That is a part of the special joy of a psychotherapy relationship. Here is a person who can tell them anything you want about yourself, and they won’t judge, they won’t insult or berate, and they won’t just leave you unexpectedly (within their abilities, anyway). It’s such a valuable and unique relationship that’s to your benefit to take advantage of as much as possible.

6. Ask your therapist to read your online blog entry, Facebook page, or support group posting. I would do this very rarely indeed, but it’s okay to share the occasional blog entry or support group posting, if you feel like it indeed puts into words you can’t bring yourself to verbalize in session. Keep in mind that most psychotherapists are fairly busy — as is anyone in a full-time job — so they’re not going to have time to read all of your blog entries dating back from 5 years ago. However, if you pick out one entry or one posting that really expresses how you feel or what you’re grappling with at that moment, that’s fine. Most therapists appreciate that additional insight into their patient, especially for one who may be having trouble talking or opening up in therapy.

Dr. Grohol says in closing that some silence during the session could be productive.

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