What to Expect from Therapy – 2


Finding a therapist is one of the most important aspects of doing counseling or therapy. While it may seem like the right decision to go for the person with the most degrees or years of experience or the one who does the newest and trendiest mental health “thing” – I would like to suggest that perhaps a more important criteria to use is how well you “click” with the therapist. The relationship that you are able to create with a mental health professional is part of the process of therapy. So, in order to find a therapist you have a bunch of ways to find people; you could search the internet, find a list of therapists and go from there, or you could ask around and see if someone you know has a contact for you. But when you are looking for a therapist I would like to suggest that you keep an eye out for how well you think you might be able to connect with this person. This is not to say that you should only seek therapy from someone you could (in another context) be friends with, but that you find the relationship easy enough that you can be open and honest with this person. As a therapist, I can only provide help to the extent that I know about what’s going on. If someone came into my office and asked for help with feelings of anxiety but never told me what was causing stress in their lives I could do far less than if they were willing to tell me all about the tension with their boss at work or whatever the specifics are.


Hopefully, lots and lots of questions. A big part of my job is to ask lots of questions and figure out just who exactly you are and what makes you “tick.” In order to do that I will ask you lots of questions. Not in a rapid-fire kind of overwhelming sense, but in a way that I am constantly curious about you and what’s going on with you. The more I know about you and what is going on in your life, the more I can bring my education, experience, and training to bear on the situation. It is from a point like this that we can begin to help you engage in your life in your most authentically true self.


We’re just people. Despite the graduate degree(s) and/or state certifications and/or continuing education we all have to maintain, we can and do make mistakes or get things wrong; we’re not perfect. What to do about this is largely dependent upon the area in which we are wrong or make a mistake. Did I pronounce your name wrong, please tell me. Did I assume you were married when you are actually not, please tell me. Did I tell you how you were feeling about something and get it totally wrong (I sure hope I don’t do this), please tell me. Now, these are obviously small things, but if a big thing were to happen – something really bad, we have a professional oversight board that I would encourage you to contact if there is a serious problem that you cannot (for whatever reason) work out with your therapist.

Hopefully, we as careful and thoughtful therapists will try to ask more questions than tell you how to live your life. We will try to refrain from giving you advice or telling you what to do – it’s your life and so you should make those choices. I know that I will often speculate with my clients about what it seems like is going on with them, let em give you an example. If I were talking with a client who has two young children at home I might say something like, “with two little ones running around I could imagine that could get pretty stressful.” At this point I am actively hoping the client will either confirm and then elaborate so we can work on stress, or that she/he would be comfortable to disagree and tell me what’s really going on. Perhaps something like, “it’s not actually that stressful, but when they are asleep and I’m not busy with them anymore I start to feel lonely.” In that case we could start to talk about those feelings. Hopefully, this shows that we try to ask more questions than say how it is.


Some of the questions we therapists and counselors tend to ask revolve around the emotions our clients experience. This is where we used to get the classic stereotypical, “and how does that make you feel?” While this questions has now become a trope for the unconnected and/or incompetent therapist, the sentiment is still important and still something we try to discover with our clients. The emotional content of our clients’ experiences is often a mystery to them and this type of question helps concentrate on the ways we react to things.

As for he kinds of things therapists don’t ask; in a professional context I will try very hard to avoid asking “why.” This isn’t because the “why” of something isn’t important, but because any answer to that question is already putting the pieces together and assuming a motive or answering about step 4 or 5 when we really need to be looking at steps 1 through 3. Instead I try to ask “what” questions; “what made you think he was mad?” instead of “why was he mad?” The first question prompts you to look for causes and effects and a logical progression of events, the second asks you to speculate about the inner workings of someone else – not usually the best way to start.

Next time…questions about what to expect in sessions and what to do if you aren’t sure what to talk about in therapy.

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