Last week, I continued a series of posts about the therapy experience and the therapeutic relationship. Last week, I talked about the experience of “good therapeutic fit,” and I promised more information about the therapeutic relationship. The therapeutic relationship is very different from other relationships, and here are a few of the reasons why:
- The therapy relationship is a caring and supportive relationship that is deliberately one-sided. I don’t talk much, if at all, about my day-to-day life with my clients. That’s not because I want to keep secrets from them, or because I want to “control” the relationship. However, therapy is supposed to be one-sided. You are paying to be in therapy, and that means that your hour is just for you. I get support for my stress in other places. I want the session time to be about meeting your needs and helping you build your coping resources.
- You are encouraged to focus “just on you” for the therapy session. Many of my clients are people who have other support in their lives. They have friends, family, co-workers, romantic partners. But they worry that they have “worn out” those who care for them. You won’t do that in therapy. If we need to talk about the same issue for multiple weeks in a row, we can do that. I won’t get bored or frustrated with you.
- Pain is acceptable in the therapy relationship. One of the reasons I have a job is that we have a hard time letting the people we love be in pain. But feeling pain is an essential part of moving through the pain and not carrying it with you. In the therapy relationship, there is space for anger and fear and sadness. Your feelings won’t overwhelm me–and I buy my tissues by the case.
- Challenge is encouraged in the therapy relationship. I have written before about the fact that sometimes therapy asks you to take risks and make changes. Unlike other people in your life, my responsibility in the therapy relationship is to help you explore questions and choices that you might not otherwise explore. Most people come to therapy because of pain, and my job is to help you make choices to cope with that pain. Choices often lead to change, and change can feel very risky.
- Therapy is intimate and separate–all at once. I know things about my clients that many of their close friends or family members may not know. I walk with my clients through dark spaces in their hearts, minds and lives. But we don’t follow one another on Facebook, or meet up for coffee. That separateness is what makes therapy safe. Being an outsider is what gives me the perspective to offer support and challenge. People can tell me something and not worry that I’ll bring it up at the grocery store.
This is just a first look at the things that separate therapy from other relationships. I may come back to this in a future post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences highlighting the unique nature of the therapy relationship.
Image Credit: Photo “Puzzled Path” by Magnus A. via Flicker