4 Things Your Therapist Needs From You

Go from good therapy to great therapy with these quick tips.

The first rule of therapy club is…no, that’s not it. The first rule of therapy is that it’s about you, not your therapist. While the quality of your relationship is statistically one of the most important factors in determining the quality of your outcomes, that in no way means that the  therapy should ever be about the needs of your therapist. This is your time, and professional ethics and boundaries are there to ensure it stays that way. 
That said, therapy isn’t a solo operation. It’s a meeting of two individuals coming together for the benefit of one. And there are a few things that you can do for your therapist, to ensure that they’re in the best position to do the most for you.  

1. Show Up on Time 

I know this sounds trite, but especially once the relationship is securely developed, it can be easy to become a bit laissez-faire with the clock.  
Picture this: the ship of therapy anchored in the harbor of punctuality. Can you see the ripples of respect, commitment, and readiness dancing on the water's surface? Showing up on time, dear one, is like a gentle wind filling the sails, propelling the ship smoothly on the waters of exploration and understanding. “Is punctuality that significant?” you ponder. Ah, it’s the first note in the harmonious melody of therapeutic progress, setting the tone for a fruitful, respectful, and committed journey.  


2. Broach Topics Early in Session

“Well, we’ve only got a few minutes left, so…” 
“Oh, I forgot to mention {insert jaw-dropping, super-huge, clinically important experience}. “ 
This is lovingly referred to in the therapist community as the “Doorknob Confession,” given the tendency for it to come out literally as the client has their hand on the doorknob to leave the  now-out-of-time session. And the common wisdom is that it usually involves a topic that is so emotionally fraught as to require the entire previous session to build up to. But whatever the reason, it’s one of the most challenging moments for your therapist to deal with. See, doing this puts your therapist in a difficult situation. On a professional level, if the confession involves topics of immediate physical harm or abuse, we’re ethically and legally obligated to investigate further to ensure that as mandated reporters we don’t have a legal responsibility to alert the authorities. This means potentially infringing on another client’s time while we do so. But on a personal/clinical level, these revelations often include details that are  incredibly relevant to the work at hand. And leaving them until next week (or month), can directly impact the ability to work on them. “The deep mines are where the gold is,” so goes the old therapy adage. So, it’s important as you recognize that you have found one such mine, to  ensure that we have as much time as possible to explore it together. This can feel very difficult, but the bravery required to sit down from the beginning of a session and share something  intimate and vulnerable pays extraordinary dividends later.  

3. Talk About What's Really Going On 

It’s so lovely to vent, isn’t it? It’s wonderful to have a place to come and just talk about the disappointments, the frustrations, the joys and triumphs, and all of the generally ugly, frustrating, sad, strange, and even exuberant experiences of our lives. This is one of therapy’s greatest gifts. A place to come and be seen. 
But often, the experiences that are the most fun to talk about, aren’t the experiences we need to be talking about. Vulnerability is hard. Asking for help is hard. And it is a moment of true bravery and courage when you broach a difficult topic, particularly one that doesn’t paint you in the most positive light. 
Maybe you’re struggling with substances. Maybe your anger is out of control. Maybe you’re worried that you’re going to hurt someone, or yourself. Or maybe you already have been hurt by someone and the shame rises to an overwhelming degree when you even consider  acknowledging it, let alone talking about it with another human being. These are just a few of  the conversations that rise beyond what we should talk about to ones that we need to talk  about. Remember that we’re on your side. We’re specifically trained to bracket our personal  feelings and emotions and stand by you with respect, compassion, and unconditional positive regard. We’re here to walk the most terrifying paths with you to ensure you don’t have to walk them alone. But that journey always must begin with an opening from you: “here’s what we need to talk about.” 

4. Reach Out for Extra Help 

Therapists are blackbelts in boundaries. At least, it’s up to us to show up that way. So, if you need help, reach out! We can’t know the depths of what you’re going through unless you tell us, and in those moments of true darkness, when everything in you is screaming to isolate, that’s when we most want you to know that we’re there. 
Our job is strange, we see you for one hour each week (if we’re lucky), get inducted into the rawest and most intimate details of your experience and then say goodbye for another 167 hours. To say we’re invested in your well-being is an understatement (and if you feel like your therapist isn’t, check out 5 Ways to Know You're with the Wrong Therapist). Yes, our number one priority is helping you develop autonomy and self-sufficiency, and yes, we want you to  engage with your personal support system and find solutions without us. But when you’re in the dark and you truly feel you have nowhere else to turn, know that we’re there. Extra sessions, double sessions, phone sessions, emails, or texts (assuming they’re HIPAA secure), these are all available and we want to engage with them. However bleak and alone you feel, even if you feel there’s no one who would miss you were you gone, know that we could experience no greater loss than losing the opportunity to be there for you when you need us. 
So, while therapy is always about you and never us, just remember that these four points ensure that your therapist has all of the time and information needed to support you on your journey to the best of their ability. And if you’re ready to embark on your exploration of self discovery, check out our many clinicians ready to journey with you.

About Richard Aab

Richard Aab, LCMHCA, has a BFA in Theatre from NYU and received his Clinical Mental Health Counselor, M.Ed. (Master’s in Education) from North Carolina State University. He is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHC-A) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Richard has a deep commitment to working with individuals overcoming developmental and childhood trauma, and he combines cutting-edge, neuroscientific research with traditional existential and behavioral therapeutic modalities. He is supervised by Elizabeth Grady, LCMHCS, and sees adult clients by telehealth.

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