What Therapists Wish Their Clients Knew

Before clients commit to therapy, they may want to talk to the clinician prior to coming in to ask a few questions. They may ask, “What kind of therapy do you do?”, “Have you dealt with this problem before?”, or “Can I reach you in an emergency?”

All of these questions are important, and they are all ways of asking, “Can you help me?”, “Can I trust you?”, “Can you understand me?” Anyone considering therapy is hoping it will help, but it can be difficult to know how someone can help you, especially a stranger.

How can you as the client know more about what to expect? What does the therapist expect from you? Let us try to answer some of the common questions clients have before their first visit.

What Can I Expect During My First Visit?

During the first appointment, your therapist might ask questions like, “What brings you in?” or “How are you hoping things will change as a result of therapy?” It’s a good idea to think about these questions in advance so the conversation can begin to focus on how you as the client would like to change and what you want to gain from therapy.

Your therapist will also want to ask about the particular problem that brought you to their office. How long has it been a concern? What has worked and what has not worked in easing the problem? What are your thoughts about why it is so difficult at this time?

What Does the Therapist Expect From Me as the Client?

Therapy assumes a mutual respect that involves keeping appointments, coming on time, and talking about the concerns you came in to discuss. It involves agreeing on a price and method of payment.

Additionally, therapy has certain boundaries. Your therapist genuinely wants to help, but will not usually go to homes or have sessions in cars or coffee shops. While it my not by uncommon to run into each other at restaurant, event, or in the neighborhood, feel free to discuss in advance how you would or would not like to greet each other if this should happen.

Another component of boundaries is that gifts are not expected, nor accepted, as they would be with a friend. Words are the currency for appreciation rather than gifts. On the other hand, therapists get sick and have personal tragedies like anyone else. They appreciate your comments of condolence or concern if you know of a personal event in the therapist’s life. Therapists differ in how much they may wish to talk about their personal lives, but will appreciate your concern.

Even the Most Talented and Intuitive Therapist is Not a Mind Reader.

If you feel your therapist is missing something, bring it up. If you are in couple or family therapy and you feel misunderstood, it is important to bring it up in a respectful and calm manner. If you feel the therapy is not working or just turning into ‘News of the Week: In Review’, bring it up. You are the consumer, but you can be an informed, considerate consumer.

Therapy works in the context of a respectful, considerate relationship. It is important to feel you can trust your therapist and that your therapist understands what you are trying to deal with. Unlike the treatment for measles or strep throat, there is no pill or injection for a troubled relationship, broken heart, grief or confusion about making an important decision. Your therapist can’t make decisions for you, but will try to help you understand your thoughts and emotions so you can make decisions that feel better for you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Bring Up Other Issues and Ask Questions

It is helpful if the therapy focuses on one major concern at a time, but that focus can change throughout sessions, especially as the relationship and trust deepen between you and your therapist. Be sure to talk about other issues you would like to bring into the therapy sessions. You may think something you worry about is “stupid” or “silly”, but usually your therapist will see it slightly differently. The underlying concern or feeling is important to you and may be similar to something have experienced at other times.

Moreover, if your therapist suggests a consultation or medication you should be clear on the purpose, feel free to discuss it and be open to pursuing it. The correct medication in the correct dosage often complements the talk therapy and allows clients to reach a deeper level of understanding and growth.

Therapists choose to be therapists because they like listening and talking to people about matters that matter. It is a privilege to be present with clients while they struggle with things that are important to them: their fears, anger, losses, relationships, triumphs and joys. Sometimes clients ask me if I ever get bored listening to people all day. My feeling is no one is boring who is genuinely trying to understand himself or working to have more fulfilling and meaningful relationships. I am sure most therapists would agree.

Margaret Shapiro, LCSW, BCD is a former Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships. To schedule an appointment with any of our current therapists, click here or call Client Care at 215-382-6680 ext 1.