NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Empowering Clients in Therapy - Part 1

Many people, who are depressed, anxious or traumatized, avoid coming to therapy because they feel ashamed of their problems, they fear they'll be overwhelmed by opening up emotionally in therapy or they feel a sense of helplessness related to a history of trauma (see my article: Overcoming Feelings of Helplessness Related to Childhood Trauma).

Empowering Clients in Therapy
As compared to the number of people who need mental health treatment, only a small percentage actually come to a therapist's office.

This is all the more reason why it's so important for psychotherapists to find way to empower the clients who, although apprehensive, come to therapy.

Empowering Clients in Therapy
There are many ways to empower clients in therapy, including:

Helping Clients to Feel Safe
As I've mentioned before, for many people coming to therapy is an act of courage.  It's not easy coming for a consultation with a stranger, not knowing what to expect.

The therapist sets the tone, especially at the start of therapy, and it's important that s/he create a safe, comfortable, respectful environment (see my article:  The Creation of a Holding Environment in Therapy).

An emotionally attuned therapist can make all the difference to clients who feel apprehensive.  Empathy and respect are the hallmarks of good therapy and help clients to feel comfortable (see my article:  The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative to Clients in Therapy).

Providing clients with information
Many clients who have never been in therapy before don't know what to expect.  They might not understand about the treatment frame regarding regular appointment times, lengths of sessions, fee arrangements, therapist's education and skills, and so on.

Empowering Clients in Therapy

Even if clients have been in therapy before, each new experience will be different.

After therapists get to know clients, clients need help to understand their problems.  If they've never spoken to anyone about their problems, they might feel that they're the only ones who feel this way or who have had these experiences.

As much as possible, it's important for therapists to normalize clients' experiences so they know that they're not the only ones who have ever gone through these problems before and that other people have been able to work through these issues in therapy.

This empowers clients so they don't feel ashamed and guilty about their problems.  It might also help them to feel hopeful that they can also work through their problems.

Talking to Clients About Their Expectations and Goals
Clients who are new to therapy (or new with a particular therapist) might not know what to expect in treatment or they might come with misconceptions.  For instance, they might think that the therapist will provide them with "answers" to their problems rather than being someone who facilitates their development and growth in treatment.

Even if they've been in therapy before, they might have had bad experiences and they are, once again, summoning their courage to give it another try.

Empowering Clients in Therapy

Discussing their expectations and what they would like to accomplish in therapy encourages them to be active participants in their own treatment.  This is something which might be new and unfamiliar at first but, ultimately, it can empower them.

Some clients might need help formulating goals and strategizing how to accomplish their goals.  They might need help to understand that, for some people, setting goals are a work in progress, and that's okay.

Other clients might not even feel that they are entitled to want anything or to set goals because of their early history of being subjugated in their families.  Just the idea that they have choices might be a new experience.

Offering Clients Choices in Therapy
There is no one-size-fits all treatment, especially when it comes to mental health issues.

It's important for therapists to be skilled in different treatment modalities so that clients have choices.

This can be empowering for clients in therapy, especially since many clients didn't have choices when they were growing up.

Listening to the Client
Many people have never had the experience of really being listened to by another person before they came to therapy.

It's important that therapists be willing to listen to what is being said and also to what is not being said, which could be just as important.

It's also important for a therapist to learn from clients (see my article:  Psychotherapy: Listening and Learning From the Client).

For instance, the client might have a different perspective about a situation because s/he is from a different culture.  No therapist can know about every culture, so listening and learning from the client can help the therapist to see things from the client's point of view.

Repairing Ruptures Quickly When They Occur
Even the best therapist will make mistakes at times.  No one is perfect.  It's important for therapists to repair ruptures in treatment as soon as possible.

Empowering Clients in Therapy:  Ruptures and Repairs in Therapy

This can be empowering to clients, especially clients who grew up in households where they were hurt, emotionally or physically, by parents who never made amends.

Often, after a rupture is repaired between a client and a therapist, the therapeutic relationship is strengthened and it is better than before the rupture (see my article: Psychotherapy: Ruptures and Repairs in Therapy).

Aside from these basic ways of empowering clients in therapy, there are also clinical ways to empower clients, which I'll discuss in my next article:  Empowering Clients in Therapy - Part 2: Clinical Issues

Getting Help in Therapy
Asking for help is never easy.

Considering therapy might be a new idea that you've never considered before or you might be returning to therapy after having been away for a while.

There are many different types of therapies and many psychotherapists with different orientations to therapy and different levels of skill and experience, so I recommend that, if you're considering therapy, ask for a consultation first to find out about the therapist, to see if you're comfortable with him or her, to give an overview of the issues that you would like to work on, and to ask questions.

You might need to see a few therapists before you find someone that you're comfortable with, and most therapists will understand this.

For more information, see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.