NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Learning to Communicate Effectively With Your Therapist

In a prior article, I discussed how there are often ruptures and repairs in therapy between clients and their therapist (see my article: Ruptures and Repairs in Therapy).  As I mentioned in that article, what is most important is that the client and the therapist take time in person to clear up any misunderstandings, miscommunication or an empathic failure on the therapist's part.  In this article, I'm addressing a related topic:  Learning to Communicate Effectively With Your Therapist.

Learning to Communicate Effectively With Your Therapist

Learning to communicate effectively in therapy can be challenging for clients who have problems communicating in their daily lives.

Although it's wonderful to have the ease and comfort of email in daily life, sending email when you're upset or angry can also create problems because there's a lot of room for misunderstandings with email.

I've heard so many stories from clients where they're communicating about important issues with their significant other via text and email, including long drawn out arguments and even breakups.  In many cases, they found out that there were misunderstandings that could have been avoided if they had communicated in person or, at least, over the phone.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage clients to talk about anything that is concerning them about our sessions in person or, if it can't wait until the next session, to call, rather than communicate via email or text.  It's easier to sort out problems in person than going back and forth by email.  Also, email is not necessarily confidential.

Learning to Communicate Effectively With Your Therapist

Clients who are uncomfortable talking about their concerns in person with their therapist often had similar problems in their family of origin.  Often, direct communication was either discouraged or even punished, so they never learned how to communicate their feelings effectively because they feared that there would be negative repercussions.

Although it might feel "safer" in a sense to communicate indirectly with email or text, you're missing an opportunity, even though you might be afraid, to express your feelings, to be heard and to work through whatever issue you might have.  If you weren't able to do this when you were growing up, it can be tremendously healing experience.

If you're concerned about something that came up in therapy, it's best to talk to your therapist when it happens rather than allowing your feelings to fester.  It also gives you and your therapist a chance to not only clear up whatever is bothering you but to also see how it might relate to your earlier history in your family.

Tips For Communicating Effectively With Your Therapist:
  • Take responsibility for your therapy.  Although your therapist has clinical expertise, training and skills, only you know for sure what's going on in your mind.  Don't assume that she knows that there's something bothering you because she might not know.  It's up to you to bring it up--even though it might feel uncomfortable.
  • Plan what you want to say by thinking about it first.  It's often helpful to write down for yourself (as opposed to being reactive and sending out an email or text) what you want to say and, if you have time, sleep on it to see if you feel the same way the next day.   This helps you to clarify for yourself what's bothering you rather than being reactive and sending out an email in anger or upset.  It also helps to prepare you to communicate in a clear way if you're anxious about bringing up your concerns.
  • Bring up your concerns at the beginning of the next session so that you and your therapist will have time to talk about it.  This is a lot more effective than waiting for the end of the session or making a "door knob comment," which is a comment that clients make as they're on their way out of the therapist's office.
  • Try to stay calm while you're telling your therapist what concerns you.  You might feel angry or upset, but if you can remain calm, you're more likely to express yourself clearly so that your therapist can understand what's bothering you.
  • Be open to hearing feedback.  You might feel sure that you're "right" about whatever the problem is, but if you're open and flexible, you might realize that there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
  • Recognize that therapists are human and they make mistakes.  Most therapists will acknowledge their mistakes and try to repair the situation.  If your therapy has been going well until now, give your therapist a chance to repair things between you in person--rather than leaving therapy prematurely (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).
Very often, once misunderstandings are cleared up, the therapeutic relationship improves because you and your therapist got through a difficult patch where you felt uncomfortable.  Not only will you feel better for having expressed yourself in an effective way, but your therapist will understand you better.

Learning to Communicate Effectively With Your Therapist
Even if you do end up leaving because you and your therapist turn out not to be a good fit, you'll feel better about yourself for having expressed yourself directly, calmly and maturely.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've been unable to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to work through your problems.

It takes time to build a rapport with a psychotherapist and, along the way, there might be times when there are ruptures and a need for repair.  Even though this might feel scary and hard, it's worth the effort to communicate your feelings to your therapist and to do it calmly in person.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and adults.

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.