When you make a decision to see a therapist, you can expect that you will be sharing personal information with the counselor. Often times, the issues which drive us to seek the assistance of a therapist are deeply personal and sensitive issues. It might be a trauma or abuse. It might be an eating disorder or thoughts of low self worth or the death of a loved one. Because you are talking with a therapist, you might feel pressured to bare your soul quickly. But should you?
I’m writing about this today because this issue of clients feeling they need to share personal and sensitive information with me quickly has come up a couple of times recently. I want to address this here.
Yes, eventually we’ll need to get to those very personal topics in order to do the work you need for healing. But please hear that word “eventually.” When I say “eventually,” I mean in your own time, when you feel comfortable sharing with me and when there is a feeling of mutual trust. If you share information before you are ready, you may come to regret it or even resent the counselor you shared it with. It might have been a feeling that “Hey, I’m here in therapy, so I’d better share everything, even though I’m not quite ready.”
In my first session with clients, I spend the first part of the session making sure my client understands all the practice policies and their rights as a client. And then we spend most of the session on the history of the issue the client has chosen to see me about. But what you share with me might be kind of like the layers of an onion. In the initial phone call or email, you might tell me, “I’m dealing with some depression.” That gives me an idea but it doesn’t expose the intensely painful feelings and thoughts you may be experiencing. Then, in the first session, you may give me more details that are more personal while still withholding the parts that make you most vulnerable. For example, you might tell me about some of the intensely negative and critical thoughts you have about yourself, such as “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m unlovable.” And that’s okay– we’ll be doing work with the less intense parts of your depression while you determine I’m a safe person to share with and that I’m listening closely and understanding what you are sharing with me. As you can see from my examples, those “lighter” issues aren’t really light at all. They are still important and serious and worthy of attention but they likely don’t leave you as exposed. Then once that you do feel safe with me, we will begin to start talking about the parts that are at the heart of the matter. To continue my example, you might share that the thoughts are always in the voice of the person who sexually abused you as a child. That’s not something you are going to want to share casually and it’s also very likely to be something that is extremely hard for you to share. Waiting until you are comfortable in the counseling relationship may make it slightly less difficult to share.
So, in short, I want my clients to know that I will work at their pace and together we work at the level they are comfortable working at. The client-counselor relationship is so crucial in terms of the results and outcome of therapy that it’s worth taking the time to develop comfort naturally. I’m so committed to this that I ask my clients to assess each session at the end. This quick assessment form allows you to tell me what I did well and what I could have done better and asks you to rate how helpful I was, how satisfied you are with the session, and if I listened and understood.
If you would like to have a free 15-minute get-acquainted talk with me, I invite you to call me at (816) 226-4678 or schedule one with through the client portal. You will have a chance to ask questions and see if you feel comfortable scheduling a first appointment with me.